Drug-fuelled pirates holding a Nigerian boat during one of the longest hijackings off Somalia locked the crew up, aimed a machine-gun at them, and fed them little but rice, the captain said.
Pirates released the MV Yenegoa Ocean, a firefighting and supply tug, last week after capturing it with 10 Nigerian crew on board 10 months ago en route home from Dubai.
“We were taken to a remote area off Somalia and we were living like animals in that place,” the boat’s captain, Graham Egbegi, told Reuters in a telephone interview from Yemen.
Egbegi, who is from the Niger Delta region of the west African nation, said the pirates came armed with AK-47s and hand-held rocket-propelled launchers. They locked the crew in their cabins after capturing the boat.
They were held off a remote village in north-east Somalia.
“They mounted an automatic machine-gun on deck and pointed it at us,” Egbegi said. “They became very hostile after that. They were always high on drugs. They were living like demons.”
Though the pirates had demanded more than $1 million at the start of the saga, no details of any ransom have been made public. Egbegi said he had no information on that.
Somali pirates have made millions of dollars in the last few years, capturing ships in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean sea-lanes. There have been some reports of hostages dying in captivity, and taking beatings by pirates, but various released crews have also spoken of good treatment by their captors.
Egbegi said his crew was treated appallingly, confined to cabins and seeing no sunlight for the first three months.
They lived mainly on rice, occasionally also getting flour, the odd tomato or onion, salt and sugar, he said.
Water was sometimes contaminated.
“People got sick. They didn’t care about our lives. We were miserable for the first three months,” Egbegi said.
“My trousers are too big for me now and I have no belt. I can get a rope and tie it to my waist … But this is not the time for fashion, I just want to go home.”
Maritime groups say that while the world has shown great concern at protecting trading lanes, the plight of hostages — mainly from developing nations — on the hijacked ships is often overlooked. Pirates still hold about 250 hostages off Somalia.
The Nigerian captain said the gang that took his boat looted their stories and broke equipment.
“The pirates were day by day stealing everything from us, they pounced on our food and dry store … Everything in my ship is broken and looted … from electronics to personal TV sets.”
The crew’s Christian faith kept their spirits up, he said.
“We would pray and cry to God. He was our strength and He did not abandon us,” he said.
When the word to leave finally came, Egbegi and his dazed crew started up their engines and called the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy centre for help.
NATO alliance forces on patrol in the Gulf of Aden sent Dutch warship HNLMS De Zeven Provincien racing there, to accompany the boat and its crew to Yemen.
“Now I just want to speak to my wife and see my five children,” the captain said.
While in captivity, he saw another hijacked, Malaysian-flagged vessel nearby. Egbegi urged ship-owners to work hard to have their crews released.
“From what I saw, the Somali guys are mean and can do anything. People should realise crews have families. Let the crews go home,” he said.