KOZHIKODE: Twenty seamen, including two Keralites, have been under detention of Houthi rebels in Yemen capital Sana’a since February this year.The detainees are crew of three ships which set off to Saudi Arabia from Oman but anchored off Yemen coast. The Keralites are Vadakara native Praveen Thammakarantavida, 45, and Vizhinjam native Abdul Vahab Musthaba, 42.
Sana’a is under the control of Houthis as civil war is raging in Yemen. The detainees were arrested and put in four rooms in a five-storey hotel. Both Malayalees are chief officers of ship. “We were heading to Yanbu port in Saudi Arabia to facilitate construction activities. En route, we came to know that one of the ships sank in Red Sea due to inclement weather.
The crew of that ship were rescued and we anchored off Yemen coast in early February. Soon a group approached us disguised as Coast Guard and took us to Sana’a. They were Houthi rebels. We were apprehended on the ground that we encroached on Yemen’s territorial waters,” Praveen told TNIE over WhatsApp.
‘Ship owners evade responsibility’
Though initially the crew were told that they would be freed soon, nothing happened. The rebels demanded a ransom of 2 lakh Omani Riyal from the Omani ship owners. “But the owners did not respond. They shrugged off the responsibility, saying things are now in the hands of the government. Since then, they were evasive,” said Musthaba. Praveen was in ‘Al Rahyah’ ship and Musthaba was in ‘Farida’.
The other seamen include seven from Maharashtra, two from Tamil Nadu and one each from Puthucherry and UP, besides those from Egypt and Bangladesh. Indian Embassy officials who came from Djibouti visited the detainees four months ago and ensured all steps for their freedom.
“We are eagerly awaiting a positive signal. The court here said we had not committed any offence. The shipping company has not provided salary since February and the condition at our homes is getting worse,” said Praveen.
‘It’s like a jail’
Praveen from Kuriyadi beach has been working with Oman-based Island Bridge Trading and Transport Shipping Company for the last 15 years. “It’s like a jail here. We are neither allowed to go out nor anyone is allowed to come inside. Food is being provided. But there is limited medical care. We used to hear the sound of explosions and fire exchange,” he said.
Musthaba is worried over his family back in Vizhinjam as no money has been sent to them since detention. Praveen’s son Pranav KV said that the issue has been brought into the notice of the Union government through Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan and Vadakara MP K Muraleedharan. “We are looking forward to their active intervention. It is almost 10 months now and each passing day is unbearable,” he said.
Sources said Indian Embassy officials are trying to shift the detainees from rebel-controlled area to a government-controlled place to facilitate their freedom.