Describing the ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates for 19 months, a South Korean sailor said Sunday he and his three colleagues lived the lives of caged “animals” and didn’t have access to clean water.
The four South Korean crew members of the MT Gemini, a tanker operated by the Singapore-based Glory Ship Management, were freed Friday, 582 days after the tanker was seized by Somali pirates on April 30, 2011.
The vessel was released in November 2011, but the pirates broke an agreement to release all of the crew, keeping the four South Koreans captive while releasing the other 21 non-Korean crew members.
“We lived in cages like animals,” the MT Gemini captain Park Hyun-yeol said in an interview with Yonhap News by satellite phone. “We drank rain water after filtering out red worms, tadpoles and caterpillars with our undershirts.”
Use of toilets was the only difference between their lives and those of animals, Park said. The pirates divided the four in two groups and put them under constant watch, and all four lost about 10 kilograms in weight each, he said.
Park said the most difficult moment for him was when pirates made the sailors telephone their families before firing warning shots and twisting their ears and necks to make them scream so as to scare the families.
“I still get heartbroken to think of how the families felt,” he said.
Following their release, Park and the three others — chief engineer Kim Hyeong-eon, chief mate Lee Geon-il and engineer Lee Sang-hoon — were taken to a South Korean destroyer for a trip to an unidentified neighboring nation where they scheduled to meet with foreign ministry officials who will escort them home.
All four are in good health, an official aboard the warship said.
“The freed sailors are eating well and doing fine,” an official of the Cheonghae Unit told Yonhap News by satellite phone. “They are in good health” without any signs of malnutrition, the official said.
They were tearful when they boarded the ship, but they have since gained composure, he said.
“They were so happy to be released. After talking to families on the phone, they said they wanted to eat kimchi,” the official said, adding that the crew members expressed thanks to their government and the naval unit.
The release came after ransom talks between the Singapore-based owner of the MT Gemini and the Somali captors made progress following the pirates withdrawing their demand that five of their colleagues serving terms in South Korean jail be set free.
The five were arrested during a South Korean commando raid in 2011 on the South Korean tanker MV Samho Jewelry that was seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
The official said the Seoul government had assisted in ransom talks between the ship owner and the pirates but declined to say how much ransom had been paid.