At least one Bangladeshi citizen was among a crew of 20 seamen, most of them Indian nationals, detained by Houthi rebels in Yemen capital Sana'a since February this year.
The detainees are crew members of three ships which set off to Saudi Arabia from Oman but anchored off the coast of Yemen, reports The New Indian Express.
Two Keralites -- Vadakara native Praveen Thammakarantavida (45), and Vizhinjam native Abdul Vahab Musthaba (42) -- are chief officers of two of the ships. One of the ships sank, but its crew was rescued.
Sana'a is under the control of Houthis as a civil war is raging in Yemen. The detainees were kept in four rooms in a hotel.
"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 the 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 the 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'
Although initially the crew were told 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 Vahab Musthaba.
Praveen Thammakarantavida 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 Uttar Pradesh, besides those from Egypt and Bangladesh.
As there are seven whose citizenship is other than Indian, it would seem likely that more than one of them would be Bangladeshi.
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 is anyone 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 about his family back in Vizhinjam as no money has been sent to them since detention.
Praveen's son Pranav KV said the issue has been brought to 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.
UNB is trying to ascertain whether authorities in Bangladesh are aware of the Bangladeshi hostage(s).