Fourteen Indian sailors have been repatriated, via Dubai, after being held by Houthi rebels in Yemen for nearly 10 months.
The men were aboard the merchant vessels Al Rahyah, Danah and Farida, headed for Saudi Arabia from Oman in February, when the ships strayed close to the Yemeni coast in bad weather.
One vessel sank in rough weather near the port of Hodeidah and the men were rescued by the other two ships.
The crews on both ships were detained by the Houthis on February 14, according to information received by the Indian embassy in Djibouti, which has an office in Sanaa.
After they were arrested and taken to the port of Salif, they were locked up in five rooms, where they were frequently questioned by Houthi rebels.
Their employer terminated their contracts and the men were denied access to their families, an embassy or any legal aid.
According to Mumbai Mirror, the men had their confiscated phones returned to them in August, when they began frantically contacting their families and the Indian embassy for help.
"After persistent and painstaking efforts, the embassy of India, Djibouti was able to get them released on November 28, 2020," read an embassy notification seen by The National.
The embassy worked with its office in Yemen's capital to release and repatriate the crew.
When the 14 sailors arrived in Dubai on Saturday, they were asked to pay Dh350 to release each piece of their luggage.
Indian authorities in Yemen had given them money for food but the men did not have funds to clear the baggage. They contacted an Indian social worker and the consulate in Dubai for assistance.
“The men were in distress because they were in custody of the Houthi rebels for almost 10 months," said Sreedharan Prasad, head of the UAE Pravasi Legal Cell and a volunteer with the Indian consulate.
"They were frightened, they had lost everything in Yemen and said the Houthis had taken all their belongings.
“They were upset because they were worried their journey home would be blocked again and they would lose the little luggage that was gifted to them when they were released."
The 14 Indians sailors were among 20 men, including one Egyptian and five Bangladeshi citizens, on the three ships headed for Saudi Arabia.
No information was immediately available about the other crew members.
“Due to this tragic incident, the 14 Indians have lost their passports and other important personal documents and personal belongings," the embassy letter read.
"Therefore it is requested that all maritime and other concerned authorities in India and abroad may kindly take note of their situation and strongly support them.”
The Indian consulate in Dubai paid about Dh5,000 for baggage and terminal transfer charges to help the men get home.
Siddhartha Baraily, press officer at the Indian consulate in Dubai, said the money was paid out of the community welfare fund to assist the stranded men.
“The consulate got into action and one of our officials met them," he said.
The men left Dubai for India on Sunday morning onboard an Air India Express flight.