Back from ‘hell’,sailor of hijacked vessel recalls 4-month ordeal

A brand new laptop meant for Jitiksa Solanki is now in the hands of Somali pirates

Written by Hiral Dave | Rajkot | Published: May 14, 2012 1:46:30 am

A brand new laptop meant for Jitiksa Solanki,an engineering student,is now in the hands of Somali pirates. But she does not mind. She is happy that her father,who purchased it as a surprise gift from Belgium,is back from their clutches.

Shantilal Solanki,a 51-year-old sailor from Diu,was among 18 crew members of Italian-flagged tanker Enrico Levoli who were taken hostage by Somali pirates in December 2011. The tanker was carrying caustic soda to Turkey from Iran when it was hijacked off the Oman coast.

After four months in captivity,the crew members — seven of them Indians — were released on April 21 after the shipping company reportedly paid the ransom.

Solanki,who for more than half his life has travelled through Arabian and Red Sea as technician on cargo vessels,said he would return to work only if his Italian employers shift him to the route within Europe.

“By grace of god,we all returned alive. Otherwise it was four months of hell where our each breath was at the mercy of the pirates,” said Solanki,now at his home in Diu with his wife and two daughters. He does not mind that the pirates took away most of their belongings,including electronic items,cash,clothes and even shoes. “I could not bring the surprise gift (laptop) for Jitiksa. But she is happy to reunite with me,” he said.

Solanki and his co-worker Dilip Shekri,who is settled in Surat,said the pirates were very organised and professional. “They were well-organised. Every move was well-planned. And their access to sophisticated weapons made them deadly,” Shekri said.

Recalling the hijack,they said around 7 am on December 22,2011,nine pirates,armed with AK-47 and rocket launcher,took control of the vessel. “We neither had weapons nor commandos on board. So all of them climbed up the ship,” said Solanki.

For the next four months,the entire crew was confined to the control room. The pirates barely interacted with them,except for giving orders — mostly through gestures. “As negotiations were on,they didn’t hurt any of us. But they always kept the finger on the trigger,” he said.

Once in a month,all the crew members,through a satellite phone,were allowed to speak to their family for 2-3 minutes. Finally,it was on April 21 that the Italian Navy came. The pirates left quietly and the Navy took charge of the ship.

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