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Freed sailors: Pirates are animals

  • Story Highlights
  • Indian sailors return home after two months held captive by pirates
  • They were kept under 24-hour armed guard; one calls the pirates animals
  • The crew were freed after $2.5 million ransom was paid, CNN-IBN reports
  • Stolt Valor tanker was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden -- a piracy hotspot
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(CNN) -- Five Indian sailors who were among the crew of a Japanese-owned cargo ship hijacked by pirates and held for two months before a ransom was paid said Monday their captivity was "total desperation."

"I wish that no one else ever has to go through this -- (hijackers) are not human but rather animals," said Alister Fernandes, one of the sailors, at a news conference in Mumbai, India.

They arrived in Mumbai on Monday after several days of rest and medical and psychological treatment following the release of their ship on November 16.

The Stolt Valor, a chemical tanker, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen on September 15 and was one of several vessels hijacked in recent weeks by pirates.

Navies from various countries including the United States and India have sent warships to the area in an effort to protect cargo ships and thwart the growing wave of pirate activity off the Horn of Africa. Authorities blame many of the attacks on pirates based in Somalia.

The Stolt Valor and its crew of 22 -- 18 of them Indian -- were released after the Japanese firm that owns the ship paid a $2.5 million ransom, according to CNN-IBN, CNN's sister network in India.

The sailors were generally in good health when they were released, but according to the five who spoke publicly Monday conditions aboard the Stolt Valor were severe and they lived for two months in continual fear of being killed by the pirates.

"We were always ... all 24 hours we were on gunpoint," said Fernandes. "We were all staying on the bridge (in the) navigation area. All 22 crew members were sleeping there, eating there. Only for shower and all, only two people were allowed -- two people will go, then they come up, two (more) people will go."

Another crew member, Naved Burandkar, said the hijacking occurred when pirates came behind the Stolt Valor on a boat and fired rocket-propelled grenades.

"They were continuously firing (at) our ship," he said. "They boarded our ship. They were firing ... nobody was going to understand what's happening so you can imagine what the situation was there."

Relieved friends and relatives showered the five men with flower petals when they arrived in Mumbai, and some relatives sobbed as they hugged the men to welcome them home.

Pirates have attacked more than 90 vessels off East Africa so far this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center, which monitors piracy around the world. The attacks have increased in recent weeks, the PRC says.

Kenya's foreign minister said last week that more than $150 million has been paid to pirates around the Horn of Africa over the past 12 months, and the money is encouraging pirates to continue their attacks.

"That is why they are becoming more and more audacious in their activities," Kenyan Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said.

At Monday's news conference in Mumbai, the chairman of the National Union of Seafarers of India called on the United Nations to send peacekeeping patrols into the waters off Africa and to coordinate efforts already under way by various nations.

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"The U.S. is there, UK is there, France is there, but they are very particular about the nationality of the crew on board (hijacked ships)," said Abdul Ghani of the Indian seafarers union.

Referring to the two-month holding of the predominantly Indian crew of the Stolt Valor, he added, "That's the reason in this instance it was the demand of our union and also the industry that the government of India should send its Indian navy, which the government finally has sent."

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