Fourteen Indian sailors, held captive on a cargo vessel off the Somali coast for over four months, are losing hopes of freedom and have threatened to commit suicide.
"Nobody except the Indian high commissioner in Kenya is willing to help us. We now appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to rescue us," Manoj Singh, a sailor from Uttar Pradesh who worked as welder-cum-cutter on the vessel, told IANS on phone on Friday.
Singh, a native of Judapur village of Jaunpur district, about 200 km from Varanasi, made a distress call to select journalists in Varanasi and said they were contemplating suicide.
The sailors have been held captive on board the MV Jaipur 1, owned by Al Rashid Shipping Company of the UAE, since Oct 10, 2008 at the Mogadishu port as the firm whose consignment the vessel was carrying from Oman to Somalia has been demanding $20 million in damages, according to him.
Six sailors are from Uttar Pradesh and other from Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. There are three Pakistani sailors too among the crew.
Singh said they have run out of food and there are also facing grave threat from violence in the region.
"Since yesterday (Thursday), the situation at the Somali port has become volatile due to intermittent firing between pirates and African naval warships. As a result, All vessels except our ship have moved to safer places.
"Four rockets were fired near our ship, though none directly hit our ship, with the closest landing a short distance away. A ship from the UAE, Lady Fatima, which also has Indian sailors on board, reported a few injuries, while crew on other ships reported many injuries, following which they anchored at a safer distance," Singh said.
"We don't know how long we will remain alive with the battle going on between pirates and naval forces, no food or money left and many of our sailors falling ill. Neither our employers nor the Indian embassy in the UAE is helping us. Only the Indian high commissioner in Kenya has been trying to help us, but that too in vain.
"Unless the prime minister steps in and rescues us, we think it's all over for us," he added.
"We heard our Dubai-based employer was sending air tickets for us, but later we realised that it is not possible as apart from the cargo owner, the port authorities are also demanding a huge amount to let us out."
Singh identified his fellow sailors from Uttar Pradesh as Hriday Narayan Pandey from Sultanpur, Aniruddh Kannaujia from Lucknow, Kailash Chand from Meerut, Kapil Kumar and Sachin from Ghaziabad.
The vessel left the Salalah port of Oman Sep 30 for Somalia with food grains and other edible items.
"On reaching Somalia the ship brushed along the coast and was slightly damaged from below. Water seeped in and damaged the consignment. The recipient businessman - whom we do not know - has held us captive with the help of his men," Singh said.
Singh's wife Poonam says she wrote to the president of India, the prime minister, external affairs ministry and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister earlier this month to seek help.
"But till now we have not received any response. We also met Uttar Pradesh Culture Minister Subhash Pandey and he assured help. However, nothing has happened and we are losing hope," said Vinod Singh, Manoj Singh's lawyer.