Exactly 540 days after being detained for an oil spillage accident in South Korea, two crewmembers of MV Hebei Spirit returned to the city as heroes.
The Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was vibrant with a myriad of emotions on Saturday.
Captain Jasprit Chawla and Chief Officer Syam Chetan were released by the Korean Supreme Court on June 11, after a seemingly unending mental struggle against a rigid judicial system.
“We were interrogated for 20 hours in a day. They would scream, yell and try all possible tactics to make us give in,” said Chawla.
They were made to stay in a very small room, with a rudimentary toilet. Chawla said his room was so small that he could not even stretch his arms properly.
“The condition was so bad that in winters when temperature was minus 18 degree Celsius, we would freeze but the authorities wouldn’t bother,” said Chawla.
They alleged that they weren’t allowed to nominate a witness and neither was the Indian embassy in Korea very helpful.
“When we were in jail, one of the inmates told us that we would never go home as we were fighting against a company (a major electronic firm) that has a major standing in Korea,” said Chetan.
Chawla from Dehradun and Chetan from Goa were detained in Korea for the last one year under the charges of negligence and for causing marine pollution and sentenced to jail custody on December 10.
The oil spill was caused in a freak accident when a towline of a crane towing two barges snapped due to stormy weather. One of the barges collided into Hebei Spirit, spilling 10,800 tonnes of oil in De John Port in Korea, causing the worst environmental disaster in Korea
Families of the two men don’t want to look back now.
“My younger son who is three years old doesn’t know that his father is supposed to stay with us and he referred to Korea as papa ka ghar (father’s home),” said Gurpreet, Chawla’s wife.
This incident however, has not deterred the sailors from venturing back into the sea.
“After spending some time with my family, I will want to go back,” said Chetan.