Three oil sector workers from Vadakankulam village in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli district -- among the six workers who were abducted by a militant group in Nigeria -- returned home in southern India to tell the tale of their harrowing ordeal.
The three workers - Ajit Kamaraj, Ponnambalam Vinod and Kumaresan Mohandas -- work for Italian oil company Eni Spa and were on board a vessel attached to an offshore oilrig when they, along with two Poles and an Indian worker from Maharashtra, were kidnapped on October 26.
They were freed three days later after their company paid a ransom -- believed to be Rs 250 million -- and returned home on Friday.
Recalling the traumatic experience, Kamaraj told IANS: "On the morning of October 26, our ship was surrounded by eight boats. The time was 4.30 am. Each of these boats had eight armed men. They boarded the ship.
"We had locked everybody on the ship in their rooms. Only the captain was in the control room. We had also put out all the lights as soon as we realised pirates had surrounded us."
Vinod said: "They asked the captain how many foreigners were there. When he told them there were three or four, they said he was lying. The men said they were sure that more than 20 foreigners were on board the ship.
"When they found most of the rooms locked they started firing at random. Fearing that the ship might catch fire, the captain gave them the master key, which could open all doors. They started checking each room."
After the militants found six foreign workers, they said they had enough hostages and took the men with them.
Mohandas told IANS: "They took each one of us in a different boat. There were armed guards on either side. They travelled for two hours till they reached a shore covered by dense forest.
"We were taken to land and kept in a tent in that forest. The first day itself they told us: 'we need money and that's why we kidnapped you. We will not harm you. We will get the money either from our government or your government and you will be here till then'."
Kamraj said: "Two days later they told us 'our government has refused. But your company has said that it will pay'. On Monday they told us that they were going to collect the money and release us. We were released at midnight and reached our office at 4.30 the next morning."
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the abduction.
The three men, who said they had returned from the jaws of death, told IANS that they were still upset and undecided about going back. "When we calm down we will discuss the matter with our family and then decide."
Workers from the company have been kidnapped twice before. On both occasions, they were released and no one was hurt.
"We are very grateful to our company for paying such a big amount to release us. We did not get any monetary compensation and we do not expect it," one of the men said.
For the moment they are happy to be back with their families.