DUBAI // After almost three years in captivity, Gerald Gonsalves and his crewmates thought the world had forgotten them.
“We thought nobody was coming to check if we were alive,” said the 31-year-old Filipino who was held aboard the Dubai-owned MV Iceberg I along with 23 others. “But I did not lose hope because I believe that if you are alive there is hope. Now we are secure and no more in the hands of the pirates.”
Mr Gonsalves’s freedom was secured on Sunday by the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) after a 13-day battle against the Somali pirates who hijacked the ship on March 29, 2010.
Recalling the morning of that fateful day, he said: “I was sleeping after my duty and woke up to the ship’s alarm. I saw the pirates circling the ship and shooting at us. They were raining us with bullets. For about 30 minutes we tried to avoid them. The captain tried manoeuvring the ship but everyone was afraid since they were eight men armed with fully automatic guns.”
For the past 32 months, he said, they had mostly been held aboard the rusty Iceberg. During negotiations, some of the sailors were moved to sites on land in Somalia for several days at a time before being returned to the ship.
Gulbasha Shahzada, 42, a Pakistani fitter, said his rescue was like being born again. “We feel like we have been given a new life. We went through a lot of torture and all the crew were beaten at some point.
“These three years we only met with cruelty and abuse. But finally, thanks to the Puntland Force, we are seeing some helpful and kind people after a long time.”
Mr Shahzada said his family was now eagerly awaiting his return to his home town near Peshawar.
Anxious family members have spoken of their relief.
“After almost three years I heard a smile in his voice finally,” said Rina, the 22-year-old wife of Santosh Yadav, who was among the freed men. “No one can imagine how happy I am just hearing his voice. My husband will now be with me..”
The couple had been married for less than two weeks when Mr Yadav left to join the Iceberg crew in November 2009.
Recalling the torture, Ganesh Mohite, a 26-year-old Indian seaman, said: “They would tie our legs and turn us upside down.
“They hit us with wooden planks and long wires and they never let us sleep at night. They hurt us a lot but now we are free today.”
Another sailor said it was not always physical abuse. “They told us even if you stay for 20 years or your whole lifetime, no one will come for us and our lives did not matter to anyone,” said Swapnil Jadav, 23, from India.
The PMPF said the men were slowly recovering and would be taken to the administrative capital of the Puntland region tomorrow.
“All are doing fine now,” said Mohamad Abdirahman, PMPF director.
"We will transport them to the main city of Garowe and then see how we can send them back home."