Indian crew members released by Somali pirates said Monday they lived in fear of being killed by the drug-addicted marauders who kept guns pointed at them, describing their time in captivity as "mental torture."
The five crew members were among the first of 18 Indian sailors to arrive in Mumbai, two months after their Japanese-owned cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates.
Relieved friends showered flower petals on the men, while sobbing relatives hugged them.
"It was horrific, it was scary," 25-year-old crew member Alistair Fernandez told reporters shortly after landing in Mumbai's airport from Muscat, the capital of Oman.
"We all had to stay on the bridge, all 22 crew members. We were sleeping there. It was very strict. We had to get their permission for everything. Prayers kept us going," Fernandez was quoted by AFP.
The pirates released the crew of the Japanese-owned Stolt Valor on Nov. 16 after a ransom was paid, said Abdul Gani Sarang, chairman of the National Union of Seafarers of India.
More than 80 ships have been hijacked off the coast of Somalia this year, several of them with Indian crews.
Fernandez said pirates held them at gunpoint for 24 hours, and their captors followed the hostages at all times, even on trips to the bathroom.
Naveed Burondkar, another sailor, said the pirates were armed with assault rifles and grenades, and the crew feared for their lives through the entire ordeal.
"It was mentally tortuous to have these men with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and assault rifles constantly watching you," he said. "It is a big relief being back home."
Burondkar, a 20-year-old trainee officer, said one of the pirates was in charge of negotiations and the captain was kept updated on progress, AFP reported.
"If you retaliated, they would have shot you.... They were drug addicts. Their only purpose was money," he said.
The pirates allowed them to call home occasionally during their captivity, he said.
Burondkar also said the pirates looked young. "They were in their 20s-30s, everyone was on the edge and it was like they would do anything for money."
The sailors said their captain, Prabhat Goyal, had warned them to watch out for pirates before sailing through the Gulf of Aden. The pirates boarded their ship on Sept. 15.
The Indian sailors, however, planned to return to the seas after a short break.
"These pirates are beasts. They could have done anything to us," said another crew member Santosh Patil. "But we need to go back — these things, hijacking can happen anywhere."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.