Attacked by Pirates and Jailed: How I Saved My Husband ... But Lost Our Son
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because even in the darkest situations, you can help the people you love the most.
By Aditi James
Welcome to OZY’s newest series, Love Curiously, bringing you extraordinary stories of love and relationships against the odds. If you’ve found yourself in an unconventional or intriguing romantic situation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On July 16, 2013, I was out to dinner with my family, celebrating my uncle’s birthday. Usually, Sunil, my husband, is the kind of guy who never forgets anyone’s birthday — even though he was away at sea with the merchant navy. But he never sent congratulations. I didn’t worry too much at the time. I thought he probably had weak signal or was just busy. Two days later, I learned that his ship, Ocean Centurion, had been attacked.
The pirates — they’re now thought to have been a Nigerian gang — kicked open Sunil’s cabin door, blindfolded and beat him. When Sunil, the captain, and his crew came to, the ship had been ransacked. The pirates were gone, but the ship was now drifting aimlessly at sea. Using nautical charts, Sunil guided the ship to the nearest port, Lome in Togo. But there, officials (who couldn’t speak English) made Sunil and two of his fellow sailors sign statements in French (a language they didn’t know). And then: Sunil and the sailors were jailed on suspicion of colluding with the pirates. It turned out that I was his only hope.
Sunil and I had gotten married in 2011, in our early 30s. It was a struggle for our families since Sunil is Christian and I am Hindu. We faced some resistance but we were adamant. And now we had a son, Vivaan, whom we doted on. Vivaan was only 6 months old when Sunil sailed off in May 2013. I didn’t want to live alone with my infant, so I moved into my mother’s apartment, where she could keep me company. Sunil was supposed to return by mid-August. I emailed pictures of Vivaan at least eight or nine times a day. I didn’t want him to miss any of his son’s milestones.
I kept waiting for Sunil to call. I sent him short videos of Vivaan. Then on July 18 my phone rang. It was Sunil. My first words to him were: “Where were you?” The first thing he said was: “Don’t panic.”
He didn’t sound like his calm, assured self. He told me the ship had been attacked by pirates but that he was safe and calling me from a hospital. He couldn’t talk for long, but he told me not to worry. I thought to myself: He’ll be fine; he’ll be home soon. That hope kept me going. I had heard of pirate attacks and knew they were dangerous but when Sunil assured me that he was fine, I believed him. Sunil is my soulmate and he never lies to me. Maybe he was just trying to protect me.
That night, I googled “ship pirate attack” and a marine news website fed me the details: The Ocean Centurion had been attacked. The captain, Sunil James, was hurt. The crew members were captives at a port in Togo. I was beginning to realize my husband was in danger. I had to do something.
Days later, I received another call from Sunil. “Phone the office. Tell them they are taking us to prison,” he said. I panicked for a brief moment before I collected myself and thought of the next steps. I had to be strong. There was no other choice. I called the company office. No one responded. I was helpless. I left Vivaan with my mother and went to the offices of Sunil’s company, Union Maritime, in Mumbai. For days, I sat from morning until evening at that office, but nobody listened to me. Nobody helped me. In that moment, I surprised myself: I am never the one to take on a fight, but that time I decided to fight to bring home my husband and the father of my son — my son who was also in danger.
Before Sunil set off for his voyage, Vivaan had undergone intestinal surgery, and complications had arisen again. I spent my days either at the pediatrician’s or the Union Maritime office. I was fighting two fights at the same time. Everyone kept telling me “hojaye ga,” (things will be fine), but I suddenly realized I couldn’t take their word for it.
One morning in Mumbai, I checked Marine Traffic, an app that tracks ships across the world, and found that the Ocean Centurion had left Togo. I was confused. If the ship was gone, why was my husband still there? No one could give me any answers. I shouted at the officers. My son was sick. I needed them to send my husband back home. Why were they not sending him home?
I couldn’t imagine Sunil in prison; it is a horrible place for anyone. I later found out that in jail he ate one piece of bread and one egg per day. It is just painful to think of that.
Back home, Vivaan’s health was deteriorating. Some nights I would just look at Sunil’s pictures and silently cry. But I also surprised myself. When the company failed to help me, I went to the Directorate General of Shipping in India. I went to the media. Unless you fight, you will not get what you want. I called Union Herald officials from the hospital where my son was receiving treatment and begged them to send my husband home. Sunil had spent all his time with Vivaan before he sailed on that ship. I just wanted us all to be together.
But that was not to be. Around midnight on Dec. 2, 2013, I called Sunil’s prison to pass on the news I never wanted to convey. Vivaan was dead.
Having just lost my only son, I swore not to lose my husband too. I kept Vivaan’s tiny body in a morgue, hoping Sunil would be able to come home for the funeral. For the next three weeks, I met everyone I could, anyone with power who I thought could help me. I organized marches. I was able to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who assured me that he would do everything to bring Sunil back. Sunil told me to go ahead with the funeral.
On Dec. 19, I received a call saying that Sunil would be sent home. I remember only one feeling from the moment I got that call: I just felt so light. Sunil was scheduled to fly to Delhi, and from there home to Mumbai. I flew to Delhi to meet him. When we saw each other at the arrivals, we simply hugged. Everything had changed. Words were pointless. We flew from Delhi to Mumbai together, silent, arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders.
A few months later, Sunil returned to the sea. In 2016, Aditi and Sunil had another son, Vivian.
As told to Maroosha Muzaffar. Love Curiously, OZY’s newest series, brings you extraordinary stories of love and relationships against the odds. If you’ve found yourself in an unconventional or intriguing romantic situation, email us at email@example.com.
- Aditi James, OZY AuthorContact Aditi James