One of the four Cambodian fishermen released by Somali pirates on Saturday described yesterday their terrifying four and a half years in captivity, which he said “killed us emotionally”.
Kampong Chhnang province native Em Phoum Many, 34, was kidnapped in March 2012 along with 28 of his fellow sailors when pirates hijacked the Taiwanese-owned fishing vessel Naham 3 in open waters south of the Seychelles.
After spending a little over a year off the coast of Somalia, the fishermen were then moved to a remote corner of Galmudug state in central Somalia. They remained there until Sunday evening when a UN humanitarian flight brought them to Nairobi, Kenya; three of the crew – none of them Cambodian – did not survive the ordeal, however.
Speaking from Nairobi yesterday, Many spoke of the conditions he and his shipmates endured.
“We slept in the forest. We only got two meals a day; we were given rice with sweetened water. And they didn’t allow us to take a bath, we only got 1 litre of water a day,” he said. “They always threatened to kill us. They had already killed us emotionally; they said if we run, they will shoot.”
Naham 3 is owned by the Taipei-registered Kaohsiung Jianchang Fishery Company. A Taiwanese lawmaker involved in ransom negotiations leaked a video to his national press over the weekend, purportedly filmed sometime in 2014.
The video shows the crew emaciated and melancholy, few of them raising their eyes from the ground as they are filmed squatting in dusty scrubland and guarded by men bearing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades with keffiyehs drawn across their faces.
The video then cuts to a man identified by Taiwanese media as chief engineer Shen Jui-chang. Shirtless, he berates the Taiwanese president for not coming to their aid. Claiming the crew is disease-ridden, he says that two crewmembers, aged 24 and 28, had already died for want of medicine.
Em Vann, 44, had been sure her brother, Em Phoum Many, was dead until he called her from Somalia on Saturday following his release. She had not heard from him since he called years ago to say he had been captured. “Since that day I could not eat anything, and I was so worried I could not sleep,” Vann told the Post yesterday.
She described her brother – who spent 10 years as a monk before becoming a fisherman – as a calming presence who spoke little but smiled often.
“He just called me on Saturday; he said he will come soon. I am happy; I shed a tear, because we thought he may have been dead already,” she said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry said yesterday that Many and his three colleagues will fly into Manila on Friday and that arrangements for their return to Cambodia will be made from there.
The crew of the Naham 3 were described by one of the negotiators as “the last remaining seafarers taken hostage during the height of Somali piracy”.
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