"I'll go by the Gulf of Aden again and again, I'm not scared," said Captain Prabhat Goyal of the Stolt Valor in New Delhi on Tuesday on his return to India after a two-month ordeal when his cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates. He said "hot pursuit" of the pirates, like the Indian Navy had done, is the only way to prevent further hijackings in the busy sea trade route.
"I'm very proud of my wife (Seema Goyal)," the captain said at a media conference here, acknowledging the determined campaign she had launched to get the ship and its 22 crew, including 18 Indians, freed. The ship, owned by a Japanese company and carrying crude, had been hijacked Sep 15 by Somali pirates off the Yemen coast. It was bound for Mumbai.
"The Gulf of Aden cannot be closed down, or kept at ransom. Everyone will suffer. The route has huge economic proportions attached to it," Captain Goyal said emphatically.
He said the issue had made worldwide headlines now, but hijackings had been going on in the region since October 2007.
"The matter has huge financial implications, it is not just an issue of the Stolt Valor, or Captain Goyal," he said, adding that he had spotted at least 30 hijacked vessels during his two-month stay there. One ship had three women on board, he said, adding that something should be done to get them freed.
Goyal, who has spent 30 years on the sea, said the "suffering was unimaginable" for them and there were times when they wondered whether they would ever get to see their families again and "many times we thought it was all over for us".
He expressed satisfaction at the way the Indian Navy had blasted a mother ship of the Somali pirates and "according to my knowledge they have also captured some pirates".
He said that all parties must do something to tackle the growing menace of piracy as the "stakes of the pirates are going up. Their demands are going up."
He said the pirates had demanded $25 million for the release of a Saudi Arabian tanker which carried 300,000 tonnes of crude.
"Eight thousand ships go by the Gulf of Aden," he said and said "hot pursuit" of the sea bandits was the only way to prevent more such incidents.
He revealed that some of the mother ships being used by the pirates were ships that had been abandoned by the owners after they were hijacked.
"There is no law in Somalia, nothing works," he said and recalled how the pirates had fired Kalashnikov rounds at the crew, missing them narrowly, to get home their message.
The pirates had damaged their satellite-phone and he had only one phone of the hijackers with which to communicate with the negotiators. He had to keep going around the area with the ship "looking for the network", without which crucial talks on the ransom amount and to free them could not have been held.
He did not agree to his wife saying that she felt the government had not done enough to free the crew. "That is my wife's personal opinion," he said.