Mumbai: In a heart-warming development, five Indian sailors – who were stranded in Iran from June 2019 – finally returned home on Friday afternoon after surviving a nightmarish ordeal of nearly four years.
The five are: Aniket S. Yenpure, 31 and Mandar M. Worlikar, 28 (both of Mumbai), Pranav A. Tiwari, 23 (Patna), Naveen M. Singh (New Delhi), and Thamizh R. Selvan, 33, (Chennai).
They landed from an Iran Air Tehran-Mumbai flight this afternoon, bowed and touched the Indian soil, and were welcomed, kissed, hugged and lifted in the air with tears and cheers by their ecstatic relatives.
“Our joy is boundless… We were away and separated from our families for almost 45 months, but the long nightmare has ended now. The next one month we shall rest and interact with all our family members,” Yenpure said.
They expressed gratitude to the Indian Embassy in Tehran which arranged for their emergency travel papers and tickets till Mumbai and also some Iranian lawyers for labouring more than six months to ensure their smooth “ghar-wapsi”.
However, their passports and CDC were not handed over, and now the five youths plan to apply for fresh passports, said Worlikar.
Presently, Yenpure and Worlikar will host their friends Tiwari, Singh, and Selvan (Tamil Nadu) at their Worli home till they can arrange funds from their families to return to their respective home towns by this weekend.
The plight of the five-some was first highlighted by IANS (July 4, 2021), how they were sailing in the high seas off Oman in Feb. 2020 but were unwittingly trapped into a treacherous maritime narcotics smuggling racket allegedly perpetrated by their ship’s captain.
For this, they were arrested, jailed, acquitted, and then grounded, moved around different cities in Iran, fighting legal battles, at times hiding, occasionally doing small menial jobs in exchange for a meal, or surviving on the food and clothes doled out by sympathetic villagers in remote areas, Yenpure’s father, Sham Yenpure, said.
“We had approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, his ex-Minister son Aditya Thackeray, Iran diplomats in India and Indian diplomats in Iran, top Iran leaders, and others for help,” said Yenpure, a milkman, in an emotion-choked voice, while undertaking his annual foot-march to the Shri Saibaba Temple in Shirdi this morning.
Initially, everything was hunky-dory for the five youths – 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 next morning (February 21, 2020), an Iran Navy ship intercepted in the high seas, arrested them all, and transferred them to the naval ship.
As events unfolded after February 2020, little did the boys realize 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 – till their return.
The five youths were offloaded from the naval ship, then arrested by the Counter-Narcotics Department, sent to police custody, spent over 55 weeks in jail, but later were found innocent on March 8, 2021 and a lower court ordered their release.
Shockingly, they were re-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 came back to India, with their cost of their tickets footed by the Indian Embassy in Tehran.
“This is like a Gudi Padwa gift for usa Our prayers have been answered and the boys are safe and healthya,” said Sham’s brother, Datta Yenpure with a sense of relief after receiving them at the airport.
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