SWAT: “It was not life, it was hell,” said Gul Bacha, who spent a little less than three years in the captivity of Somali pirates before he was finally released.
Bacha, 40, was among the 24 crew members of MV Iceberg, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates on March 29, 2010. But while he has now returned home along with another sailor also from Swat, the atrocities Bacha witnessed will linger in his memory. “We experienced the worst days of our lives during captivity. Every day was torment, every night a nightmare,” said Bacha, adding that the atrocities could not be expressed in words.
“They would strip us naked and then whip us, apart from beating us every now and then. We were hardly given any food and water. We would be given a small bottle of contaminated water every three days. The water was so filthy we would filter it with our clothes.”
But perhaps the gravest reminder of the ruthless pirates will be of the day they cut off both ears of one of the ship’s engineers in front of the rest of the crew. “It was a really tragic moment,” said Bacha who found it difficult to even recount the incident.
Bacha criticised the ship’s owner for abandoning his crew. “We were left at the mercy of God. When the owner of the ship stopped negotiating with the pirates, we also stopped hoping for survival. Despite proper insurance, we have not been paid since three months before the ship was hijacked.”
He said he’s lost out on revenue worth nearly Rs3 million as a result of being in captivity, and wondered who would compensate him.
Bacha said being reunited with his family was not something he thought possible. “It was like a dream we never expected to come true. We never thought we would return home alive. It is not (ordinary) joy, but extreme ecstasy that we are experiencing.”
The absence of Bacha was a trying time for his family back home. “The three years of his absence were like 30 years. I could not sleep at night and would keep thinking about my son. It was also very hard for me to face his wife and children. We did not celebrate Eid and other occasions because of his captivity. Our Eid is today and excitement and joys know no bounds,” Bacha’s mother told The Express Tribune.
Bacha’s house was flocked with guests. Not only relatives, but also neighbours came to wish him well. “Today we have organised a function to thank God. It is a sort of a thanksgiving for his safe return,” explained a guest, Tahir Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2012.