CaribWorldNews, TORONTO, Canada, Fri. May 8, 2009: He has been on the high seas for 46 years and travelled to countries in the African continent, but never faced such a grueling situation as occurred a few weeks ago, when four Somali pirates who tried to fleece them, held the captain of the Maersk Alabama, the ship that he was on, hostage.
Trinidad-born Canadian, Jamille Sabga, 66, who survived a double by-pass heart surgery last year, told CaribWorldNews this week, he and 19 other crewmates hid in the ship’s compartment for hours in life threatening conditions.
US-born captain, Richard Phillips was taken hostage by four armed Somali pirates just off the coast of Mombasa and through the intervention of President Barack Obama, the US Navy Seals was sent to deal with the situation. They managed to kill three of the four pirates and the Navy officers took the other to the US.
Though he did not see the pirates, he described the experience as `very frightening and terrible.`
`I was inside, dressed to go have breakfast when an alarm came on as an indication that pirates were on board the ship. We have drills for such incidents,` he said.
The sailors were divided into two groups. `We went to our stations and were told what to do and where to go into hiding,` said Sabga. The hiding area was dark.
`A couple of guys had flashlights and it was like 120 to 125 degrees, with no air or water. We were in there for nine hours and other people started to feel the heat.` He said an engineer shut down the ship’s power and they suffered in silence as pirates called out to them to come out and be taken prisoner. But Sabga said they know they could also be held as their Somali captors tried to ransom them off.
`I did not think initially their intention was to kill us but if we had stayed longer, God knows what could have happened to us. Just to hear them walking above us, it was traumatic and we could only communicate by whispering,` he reminisced.
One of his crewmates, Sabga said, sneaked out for supplies but could only bring back rust-darkened water for them to drink. Later, another seaman brought back some watermelon slices for them.
He said finally, a Guyana-born crewmember, who was being held, agreed to lead one of the pirates down to the crew.
At a signal, the door to their hiding spot opened and Sabga along with others overpowered the young pirate, tied him up and gagged him.
The other pirates became agitated when they could not find him and decided to take Captain Richard Phillips off the ship, he said.
But despite this incident Sabga, who said he wants to retire later this year, told CaribWorldNews that said he would certainly go back to the area if the opportunity arises again.
Relaxing in his Aurora home in Toronto with his wife, he said he is contemplating his next sailing assignment, adding that after the incident, the sailors on board the ship were asked by the agency responsible for the sailors if they would like to stay on and he did not hesitate.
`I was the first one to give my name… If I had a choice of staying I would stay, sailing is in my blood,` he said.
Sabga lived in New York before moving to Canada 26 years ago.
For security reasons, he could not disclose where exactly on board the ship they were hiding and the names of the other sailors. He said the ship was laden with containers of perishable and non-perishable items for the poverty stricken Somalia. He said Somalia needs lots of help adding that the people are faced with political, social and economic hardship.
The crew of the Mearsk Alabama spotted the Somali pirates sailing in small boats toward their ship the day before they were hijacked around April 6 near the Gulf of Aden. Military forces would later rescue the crew and take them off to Mombasa in nearby Kenya, away from the pirate threat.
Capt Phillips was eventually rescued after US Navy Seals killed three pirates. – By Jasminee Sahoye/CWNN Canada