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Tale of fortitude ends in tragedy

delhi Updated: May 20, 2011 01:50 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times
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Their strikes and demands are getting audacious but what Somali pirates, who continue to infest the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, do to the hostages is terrifying.

Sanjay Verma, India's consul general in Dubai, would know.

For 11 months, he worked for the release of Seychelles-flagged RAK Afrikana, without telling anyone that his brother-in-law was the captain of the 23-member crew, 11 of who were Indians, held hostage by the pirates. He didn't think it was professional.

The release did come but too late. Captain Prem Kumar died of brain haemorrhage on May 16. A stroke in captivity had left the 49-year-old paralysed. http://www.hindustantimes.com/images/HTPopups/200511/20_5_11-metro-1b.jpg

Looking for closure, Verma has written to the ministry of external affairs, informing them that Kumar was married to his sister.

Getting the vessel released was Verma's first major task in Dubai. Afrikana was hijacked on April 11, 2010 some 280 nautical miles west off Seychelles.

While they negotiated with the owners of the cargo ship, the pirates kept hostages on a diet of thin onion soup and rice. The crew lived in constant fear and were tortured.

The pirates wanted to turn Afrikana into a pirate mother ship to attack other vessels and wanted it refitted.

Kumar didn't allow it and faced pirates' fury.

One day, the pirates took away five young crew to the shore. They returned with blood-soaked T-shirts and told Kumar they had killed the sailors. Kumar still didn't relent.

They tortured him more, unmindful of the fact that he had high blood pressure. Soon it emerged that the blood on the T-shirts was that of a sheep.

But the violence continued and Kumar suffered a stroke on January 26, leaving his left side paralysed.

Almost three months later, on March 16, an Italian naval ship rescued the crew released in exchange of ransom. On April 4, Kumar suffered brain haemorrhage and slipped into coma. He died on May 16.

Verma's fortitude has earned him praise of colleagues and minister SM Krishna, who has hailed his "exemplary" courage in face of "personal trauma".