Indian sailors return home from Iran after four years of receiving a clearance in a drug case
Tehran — Five Indian merchant navy sailors, including two from the city, returned home on Friday after spending four years in Iran on drug-related charges. They were imprisoned for 400 days, and despite receiving an all-clear from a local court in March 2021, it took them two years to return home.
Cousins Aniket Yenpure (31) and Mandar Worlikar (28), both of Worli Koliwada, were the first to emerge from the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport around 2.38pm, where they were greeted with hugs and fragrant garlands by anxious relatives and friends. Aniket’s aunt Shashikala clung to him for 10 minutes in the arrivals section, unable to hold back her tears of joy.
Soon after, the other sailors, Pranav Tiwari (23) of Patna, Naveen Singh (24) of Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, and Thamizh Selvan (25) of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu, appeared. They were all welcomed by the Yenpures and Worlikars, who prepared a traditional Koli feast for everyone, with the highlight being an array of fish curries, at their home.
The fathers of the cousins are currently on a pilgrimage to Shirdi. Aniket’s father, Shyam Yenpure, regards their return as nothing short of a miracle. “Only one or two percent of such cases result in acquittal.” “This year, I owe a special thanks to Sai Baba,” he said over the phone.
Mandar’s father, Milind Worlikar, stated that members of all five families had endured emotional, physical, and financial hardship during this time. “While I am happy now,” he said, “I hope there is some way to ensure that other children with dreams of travelling the world do not have to go through what our children had to go through.”
Aniket’s uncle, Datta Yenpure, stated that both cousins were working steady jobs in a reputable Information Technology firm when they saw an advertisement for merchant navy positions. They applied and were accepted into the merchant navy in July 2019.
Their first voyage proved difficult because the cargo ship was carrying an illegal load of narcotics. Only the captain and senior members of the crew were privy to the information. Aniket, on the other hand, smelled a rat when he learned that cargo was being unloaded in the middle of the sea. All five then decided to record what was going on aboard on their phones, which later helped them prove their innocence.
Their ship was intercepted by Iranian naval officers in February 2020, and the entire crew was apprehended. On March 9, 2021, after spending 403 days in an Iranian prison, the five men were found innocent in a local court in Chabahar, Balochistan. However, there were diplomatic obstacles to overcome, resulting in their extended stay.
They had to rely on locals in the province at the time before they could contact the India embassy.
According to Pranav, the experience has left their parents scarred. “They don’t want me to look for another sailing job ever,” he explained. But he is determined to pursue his career in the navy. “The locals, even the prison guards, were very nice to us, especially after they found out we were from India”.
The cops even taught us rudimentary Persian for easy communication,” he said. “Even hardened criminals expressed sympathy towards us when they heard us speak in Hindi and learned about our situation,” Naveen added. We were not designed to work like everyone else.”
“While they were all very nice to us, imprisonment is a scary prospect,” Aniket said. They were first quarantined for 14 days – a frightful as well as confusing time, with everyone clueless about what was to follow. “We were also stuck in a remote area where the procedures were extremely slow.” We were taken to the court once in three months, only to be issued a next date for hearing. “Local lawyers put us in touch with Indian authorities, who educated us on protocol,” Aniket explained.
Once out of quarantine, they were given a local phone card. “Releasees helped us get in touch with our families by connecting to us through their phones,” Mandar explained.
Naveen, who had had spent only 20 days on the ship when he was arrested, said, “After being released, we were left to our own devices, as they had lost our passports and other important documents. Locals took us in and provided us with clothing and food.”
He is now looking forward to returning home and meeting his parents and wife – the couple married in 2018.