After 19 months in a Nigerian prison in Africa, 10 stranded Indian shipmen accused of stealing oil are home. Back on Tuesday, Hoshiarpur’s Gagan Kumar Bhardwaj vowed never to go abroad again.
In November 2012, the Nigerian navy had detained their Dubai - company ship and arrested the crew of 23 (10 Indians, two Ghanaians, and 11 Nigerians) on a charge of illegal oil bunkering (fuelling).
The loved ones back home had no clue to their whereabouts until Gagan called up his family in Hoshiarpur.
His father, Bachan Das, sought help from Avinash Rai Khanna, member of the Rajya Sabha from Jalandhar, who raised the matter with foreign minister Salman Khurshid and appealed to the government to secure the release of the trapped Indian shipmen.
“The recruiting company was keen only to get the ship back and so it made no effort for our release,” said Gagan.
“Many times we went without food. We could not communicate with the company directly. After almost eight months in jail, I could call up my family,” recalled the ship’s cook.
Two Indian-origins officials, one in the Indian embassy in Nigeria and a not her in the court, helped the group in its legal fight.
“When the Nigerian court ordered our release, we had neither passports nor money to return to India. On the court’s directions, we received $100 and yellow passpor ts,” said Gagan.
They secured bail in February only but the lack of support from the Indian High Commission delayed the release.
Sarabjit Kaur of Gurdaspur; Ajay Kumar of Haryana; captain Shailesh Kumar, Arvind Bhardwaj, Sanjeev Kumar, and Ashraf Ali of Uttar Pradesh; Nimesh Kori of Kerala; and Dharmraj Kumar of Bihar have also returned to their respective states.