NEW DELHI: Six Indians in Yemen had been killed after their boat was hit in Saudi-led air strikes, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed Friday.
The bodies of six of the seven missing sailors had been recovered, MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, adding that the families had been informed, and their verbal consent taken for funeral rites to be performed at Hodeidah. One of the 14 Indians, who survived Tuesday strikes, recounted to Express details of their narrow escape. Gas cylinders thrown overboard from their boat kept him and his colleagues afloat, Abid Dawood said from a hospital in Hodeidah. Four of the 14 are being treated at the hospital. The crew are all from three villages near Jamnagar in Gujarat.
“I left India about eight months ago, and had since been a crew member of the boat plying between Dubai, Somalia and Yemen,” Abid said. He has been a sailor for the past 10-12 years.
Refuting local reports that the boats were involved in smuggling fuel, Abid claimed they bought everyday items like toothpaste, soap and textiles from Dubai and sold it in Yemen, which is under a blockade from the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia.
Recalling the terrifying sight of the plane coming towards the boats, Abid said, “We stayed out at sea as we could see the planes hitting targets on shore. We raised the Indian flag on our boat, Mustafa, when we saw the plane, but it didn’t help.” Asmar, their other boat, was the first to be hit. The Mustafa crew tried to rescue sailors from Asmar, who were in the water. “The plane then came back and hit us,” Abid said. He couldn’t remember much about the immediate aftermath of the attack. “The blasts were so loud that my ears were blocked for two days,” he said.
The smoke clouded his vision. The 32-year-old said the sole reason for his being alive was his captain, who refused to leave the boat before throwing aboard about 2-3 gas cylinders. “Six or seven of us were holding on to the cylinders to stay afloat. We remained in the water for about four hours. We kept shouting for help, but the fishing boats nearby didn’t dare come to our rescue for fear of getting hit themselves,” he said. When they finally swam ashore, local Yemenis took them to Hodeidah for treatment. Two of the crew have severe burns. “The Yemenis gave us phones as they were getting calls from Indian authorities. So, we were able to speak to our families back home. They just want us to return,” Abid said.
But the surviving sailors’ stay in Yemen is expected to be longer, as their documents were destroyed in the attack and exit routes are currently dangerous. Abid, grateful for his survival, is now burdened with sorrow. Among the dead was his uncle. “I don’t know how I will speak to his family members. What do I tell him? We had left home only to earn our living”.