By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Mar 24 (IANS): Five Indian sailors who went to join a merchant navy ship in June 2019 and got stranded in Iran later, will finally return home on Friday afternoon after surviving a nightmarish ordeal of nearly four years, a family member said here.
The sailors are Aniket S. Yenpure, 31 and Mandar M. Worlikar, 28, (both from Mumbai); Pranav A. Tiwari, 23, (Patna); Naveen M. Singh (New Delhi); and Thamizh R. Selvan, 33, (Chennai).
Their plight was first highlighted by IANS on July 4, 2021, on how they were sailing in the high seas off Oman in February 2020 and were unwittingly trapped into a treacherous maritime narcotics smuggling racket.
For this, they were arrested, jailed, acquitted, and then grounded, moved around different cities in Iran, fighting legal battles, at times hiding and surviving on the food and clothes doled out by sympathetic villagers in remote areas, said Sham Yenpure, father of Aniket S. Yenpure.
"We had approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, his former Minister son Aditya Thackeray, Iranian diplomats in India and Indian diplomats in Iran, top Iran leaders, and others for help," said Sham Yenpuree, a milkman, while undertaking a foot-march to Shirdi this morning.
Initially, everything was hunky-dory for the five young sailors till February 20, 2020, when they unknowingly fell into a sinister trap of their ship captain in the high seas around 140 km from Muscat.
Sensing something amiss at the illegal mid-sea cargo transfer, Worlikar and his co-crew quietly recorded it on their mobile phones -- as evidence for the Customs and Iran Police authorities at the next port.
Unexpectedly, the very next morning, an Iran Navy ship intercepted and arrested them all on the high seas and transferred them to the naval ship.
"As events unfolded after February 2020, little did these boys realise that not only their dreams would be shattered, but they would also be imprisoned and kept away from their families for almost four years in India," rued Sham Yenpure.
The five were offloaded from the ship, arrested by the Counter-Narcotics Department, got into police custody spending over 55 weeks in jail, and later found innocent on March 8, 2021 and ordered to be released.
They were again arrested and produced before a higher court which also ordered their release, but all their travel and other documents were impounded -- leaving the five youths compulsorily stuck there since March 10, 2021.
Meanwhile, the case continued in different courts including the Iran Supreme Court, they were given all help by the local lawyers and the Indian Embassy and various Consulates in Iran.
Finally, after nearly four years away from home, they are returning this afternoon by an Iran Air flight from Tehran to Mumbai, said Sham Yenpure.
"This is like a Gudi Padwa gift for us. Our prayers have been answered and the boys are safe and healthy. We shall accord them a warm welcome home," he said.