Twenty-eight-year-old Balwinder Singh, the youngest crew member on board merchant ship MV Al Khaliq, did not know that he would end up as hostage the first time he sails.
Three months after the ship was hijacked, Singh and 23 other Indians returned to the country, safe. Seven of them, including Singh, arrived in Mumbai on Thursday.
“It was his first venture. When I got to know about the hijack I didn’t tell my parents,” said Singh’s brother, Baljeet. “Whenever my parents asked me whether Balwinder had called I would make up a story.”
Thirteen armed pirates had hijacked the vessel at Seychelles, off the Gulf of Aden, on October 22. They were released on February 9. Back home safe, the crew recalled the 90-day ordeal.
“The pirates attacked us with AK-47s and rocket launchers. They chased our vessel,” K.S.Burma (48), chief officer of the vessel said.
The crew tried to dodge the pirates by throwing bottles at them for 40 minutes. The pirates managed to capture the vessel and kept the 26 crew members, two of them are from Burma, in isolated locations and took away their clothes and money. “They assaulted us. We were asked to move to different locations. It was difficult to keep the crew motivated,” said Mulund resident Ritesh Sudan (34), captain of the vessel.
Sudan said pirates hated Americans but liked gadgets and clothes made in America.
“The first thing we are going to do is take him to a temple,” said Sudan’s sister, Ishita.
The Gawdas plan to visit their family deity in Karnataka. “I just want to spend time with my wife and two children,” said Lokesh Gawda (38), the vessel’s motorman who has been sailing for more than 20 years.
Balwinder does not plan to tell his parents about his ordeal. “I am fine so what is the point in telling them?”