Letters From Chennai: Anti-Piracy Crew's Six Months of Hell, Part 1/3

Chennai Central Jail (Author unknown, public domain)
4/9/2014 1:50 PM
Category: Features

The ETV investigative journalism program Pealtnägija obtained letters sent home by Lauri Ader, one of the Estonian seamen detained in October held by Indian authorities until their release late last week. The letters were reprinted by ERR last month with permission from family members. They have now been translated by ERR News's journalinguists.

The Estonian "pirate hunters" were detained in India on October 12 for alleged arms violations in territorial waters. The 25 crew members - including 14 Estonians - were arrested by Indian authorities six days later.

Italics indicate use of an English expression in the original.


30 October 2013

All right, I’m going to try to give you a picture of what’s going on here.

As I mentioned, these are my own views and this letter doesn’t reflect any one else’s thoughts and opinions. And I’m not writing out of a desire for pity and sympathy. I want to give as objective an overview of the situation. As you know, what’s happening here is the not the worst I’ve experienced, so I’ll be OK.

On October 12, we were in international waters, when, under threat of use of weapons, we were "invited" to visit the Indian port city of Tuticorin. We reached the port about noon, escorted by an Indian warship and two soldiers armed with automatic weapons who had boarded us.

The Indian authorities rummaged through our ship, in disregard of all international rules on boarding a foreign ship, and also rifled through our personal effects. The authorities threatened and terrorized us continuously. They vowed to show us the "true face" of the Indian police and went through the ship night and day so that only a few of us were able to sleep.

An Indian officer tried to steal a flashlight from the ship’s bridge, but got caught in the act, pathetically – this whole farce lasted six days. On the evening of the sixth day, we were again asked for identity documents (they had checked them about seven times by then).

They now asked for the documents to be surrendered to them, which we refused. The Indian authorities threatened force if we didn’t give up the documents. At that point I called the Estonian Foreign Ministry and asked for advice and assistance.

/---/

We were taken by an escort […] to the police station instead, where 21 of us (the captain and senior mechanic remained on ship) were put into a 5x5 meter room, which was hot. We spent about 12 hours there, and were summoned one at a time to sign documents that they refused to translate for us.

We were fingerprinted and handprinted. All this took place with hectoring and shouting. When we asked what was going on, the reply was that we would soon be taken to the hospital. We were loaded on to buses again and taken to a courthouse, where some sort of judge remanded us to jail without asking us any questions. We were totally beside ourselves.

Our personal effects (money, valuables, devices) are on the ship. We are going to prison and the Indian authorities are doing what they like in our cabins where all our worldly belongings are?!

/---/

We were taken to Tuticorin prison. Thirty-three men, Hindus, us whites and security guards. We were placed in a room, which measured 20x10 with a hole in the floor for doing one’s business, personal hygiene and washing dishes. We were fed three times a day. In the morning; egg and tea, for lunch; bread and tea. And bread and tea again in the evening.

There in prison, we saw Margus (the Estonian consul) for the first time, who instilled optimism in us. The next day the captain and senior mechanic joined us, which meant our ship and personal belongings were now completely in the hands of the Indian authorities to do what they liked with them. The senior mechanic was in a state of nervous shock and had tried to commit suicide aboard ship.

/---/

On the morning of October 24, the 22 of us – one white guy was left in prison – were crammed on to a bus, which started for Chennai prison, about 600 km away. It took over 12 hours. Upon arriving in Chennai, we were handed sheets, a drinking cup and plate and forced in threes or fours into cages measuring 3x4, about a third of which was taken up by the familiar hole, the parasha [Russian slang for "latrine bucket"]. We were brought some indescribable red slop to eat - which was many times hotter than Tabasco - some chapattis and tea.

/---/

We decided we would prepare our own food as no one was able to eat what was offered (you know how I like spicy food but too much is too much). So basically, we now get one boiled egg each and some slop made of root vegetables, tomato and cabbage. There’s no meat. We started getting clean drinking water only on November 20. You have to buy it for your own money, which our employer transferred to the prison.

/---/

There are about 3,000 prisoners in this prison. We are mixed in with murderers, rapists, thieves and other scum. The kitchen is about 1 km from us, we go there with Team IV to prepare food. To do this, we have to pass through many prison blocks, where the local prisoners provoke us every chance they get. The kitchen is like a 1980s Soviet pig sty. Smells, maggots, flies, crows. A total nightmare.

/---/

It has ceased to amaze me to see the guards beating people with bamboo canes or someone escorted to the hospital with their throat slashed.

/---/

The Foreign Ministry is doing good work. Margus visits us as often as he is allowed to. He’s quite a good chap. He lets us weep it out on his shoulder, offers candy, smokes, black bread and when he leaves, he wrings out his tear-stained jacket, waves to us, sniffling himself and crying through the bars and little by little disappears into the setting sun.

But of course his visits also give us motivation and cover our bodies with clothing, which we weren’t allowed to take with us. My thanks go out to the Foreign Ministry. Good job!

19 December 2013

This time I decided to write about things that we do in our free time – meaning, basically, things we do here all the time.


At 6:30am, our cages are opened. We snap awake, and everybody turns to the left in sync (the cage is small and you can’t turn over by yourself. Then we send off the kitchen detail to get the eggs. After that, head count. We count the dead and living. Then hygiene, cleaning and the egg and bread...mmm.

/---/

We are put in the cages at 18:30. We fall asleep between 22:00-24:00, or as the concrete lets us.

21 December 2013

Hi - friends, family, acquaintances,

Life is the usual drill here, the prison routine. Cage opens at 6:30, closes at 18:30. We make the egg run in the morning. For lunch, we eat some kind of slop we fix ourselves.

There’s a sport area where we can get rid of pent-up energy. It’s possible to work out, if you can call it that, using what equipment there is, but the food is quite meager and you doesn’t have the energy to do much. The guys have lost as much as 15 kg. I have lost around 7 kg.

/---/

There’s four of us in my cage. What’s positive is that we’ll be excellent synchronized swimmers after prison, because when we turn over at night we have to turn at the same time. We’ve got to be professionals in this field. There’s English-language literature here, a library. We get along more or less normally with the prisoners in our block, but there are constant problems with the others and we’ve needed to get rough with them a couple times. The guards haven’t used violence against us, but their nerves are shot and knowing ex-soldiers and ex-policemen, it could happen.

/---/

We lack any and all information on the course of the investigation of our case. The only information we get is from Margus. We’re afraid that the company we work for will desert us. We don’t basically get any kind of info from them. Margus should come by on December 22, but maybe we’ll hear some good news then. We get cigarettes here very rarely. The local substitute is something called bidis, which costs 20 rupees outside but 100 inside. We should be living in A-Block, where there’s beds and mattresses, but the privileged Hindu prisoners are put up there. Not knowing what is happening is a source of great stress. There’s no flow of information and that makes me mad.

/---/

I hope our families and children don’t consider us criminals. The reality is that most of us have been fighting crime for half of our lives and taken part in anti-terrorism operations. The Estonians among us include six war veterans. So what's going on? Does India support terrorism and piracy?

(Part 2 coming on Friday)


The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}

Message forwarded to the editor

This Ip-address has limited access

See also

There are no comments yet. Be the first!

Reply to comment

+{{childComment.ReplyToName}}:
Reply to comment
Reply

Laadi juurde ({{take2}})
The name field cannot be empty
No more than 50 characters
Comment field cannot be empty
No more than 1024 characters
{{error}}
Add new comment
  • foto
    Gallery: Tartu students mark 97th anniversary of Estonian-language university
    01.12

    While the University of Tartu in its earliest form was established in 1632, Estonian did not become the official language of instruction until Dec. 1, 1919. Today, the anniversary of the Estonian-language university is celebrated annually with a number of traditional events, the most visible of which is a torchlight procession through town involving dozens of student organizations and hundreds of students and alumni.

  • foto
    Gallery: Tartu students mark 97th anniversary of Estonian-language university
    01.12

    While the University of Tartu in its earliest form was established in 1632, Estonian did not become the official language of instruction until Dec. 1, 1919. Today, the anniversary of the Estonian-language university is celebrated annually with a number of traditional events, the most visible of which is a torchlight procession through town involving dozens of student organizations and hundreds of students and alumni.

  • foto
    Supposed tourism farm turned country home: Ilves’ Ermamaa builds farm with EU support, never puts it to intended use
    21.10

    Former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ company received €190,392 in 2006 to turn the family’s country home of Ärma into a tourism farm. Then owned by his ex-wife, it negotiated new conditions in 2012: Even if the farm was never put to its intended use, the company would have to pay back just 10% of the grant.

  • foto
    Feature: Is Germany Estonia’s new benchmark?
    19.10

    With the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, Estonia will have to look for a new great partner in Europe. Some have indicated that it could be Germany — yet just at the time it could become more important to Estonia, Europe's economic powerhouse is facing events that may well lead to a much more Russia-friendly course, writes historian Jeroen Bult.

  • foto
    Experts: President Ilves put Estonia on the map
    10.10

    With president-elect Kersti Kaljulaid’s oath of office at 3:00 p.m. today Monday, President Toomas Hendrik Ilves’ remarkable decade as Estonia’s head of state will end. ETV’s “Aktuaalne Kaamera Nädal” weekly review asked social scientists and policy experts what would remain of Ilves’ presidency.

  • foto
    Interview with Junior Achievement mentor: On Estonia's student companies
    18.09

    In a written interview given to ERR News, veteran Junior Achievement student mentor Madis Vodja, a Tallinn native who was most recently mentor to Junior Achievement Estonia's 2016 winning student company Spoony, provided insight into what Junior Achievement is, what the program's mentors do, how Estonian student companies can compete for national and European titles as well as a bit of advice for aspiring student or small business-owners in Estonia.

  • foto
    Estonia's six Paralympians in Rio
    18.09

    The 2016 Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, which also mark the 15th Summer Paralympic Games and the first to be hosted in South America, are drawing to a close on Sunday night after over a week and a half of competition. Estonia was represented in Rio by a six-athlete team which headed to the Games with a number of titles and medals, including Paralympic gold, already under its collective belt.

  • foto
    Interview with Marina Kaljurand: On taxes, corruption, the justice system and refugee policy
    17.09

    Presidential hopeful Marina Kaljurand told ERR's online news portal in a written interview that she is a liberal in worldview, who supports lower taxes on employment and bigger investments in higher education, is in favor of the state borrowing only if absolutely necessary and with great caution, and does not consider Estonia's current refugee policy to be remotely shameful.

  • foto
    Estonia’s information society development from a privacy and data protection perspective
    16.09

    Today Estonia has the most technologically advanced government system the world has seen. Even though the small Baltic state yields a population of only 1.3 million, it is known for its e-government system that has everyone applying to be an e-resident of Estonia, even the Japanese Prime Minister.

  • foto
    Original Estonian flag delivered to new permanent home at national museum
    15.09

    Previously only removed from storage for public display on rare special occasions, the original blue, black and white Estonian flag, consecrated on June 4, 1884 as the flag of the Estonian Students' Society (EÜS), was ceremonially delivered to the new Estonian National Museum (ERM) building on Thursday, where it will be put on permanent display as part of an exhibit on the founding and formation of the Estonian identity and state.

  • foto
    Pealtnägija: Common-sense approach to offering specialized medical treatment could save millions
    15.09

    ETV’s investigative magazine “Pealtnägija” reported on Wednesday that while there is a gaping hole in the Health Insurance Fund’s finances, millions could be saved by avoiding that specialist medical procedures are performed more often than necessary.

  • foto
    Reflections of an “Esto”: Estonia in 1975 and 2016
    03.09

    Anne Sarapik, the New York City-born daughter of two war-era Estonian refugees and mother of four Estonian-American children born during the final years of Estonia’s occupation by the USSR, visited her family’s homeland this summer after a long absence, discovering a vastly different Estonia than she remembered from her first visit in 1975.

  • foto
    Margus Laidre: The utopia of peace and the flowers of evil
    22.08

    Do you believe that if you close your eyes, evil ceases to exist? Although terrorism and war scar our world, many believe that we are nevertheless living in the most peaceful time we’ve known. Historian and diplomat Margus Laidre demonstrates in his essay that this may prove to be a dangerous illusion.

  • foto
    Eight former prime ministers talk about Estonia’s 25 years of regained independence
    20.08

    A quarter of a century has passed since Estonia regained its independence. On the occasion, ERR interviewed all of the country’s eight former prime ministers: Edgar Savisaar, Tiit Vähi, Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Mart Siiman, Siim Kallas, Juhan Parts, and Andrus Ansip.

  • foto
    From hobby brewer to brewmaster in Estonia's flourishing craft beer scene
    24.07

    Not yet even out of his late 20s, up-and-coming Estonian brewer Peeter Kolk made the jump from brewing for fun and for friends to making a serious go of contributing to the country’s ever more popular craft beer scene with the establishment of his own Kolk Brewery in Uuemõisa, just outside of the western coastal town of Haapsalu in Lääne County, in early 2016.

  • foto
    An old publication's new tricks: How an Estonian-American newspaper is compiled from Tallinn
    23.07

    Over half a century before the arrival of the Internet and social media, it was an Estonian-language newspaper published in Manhattan, the Vaba Eesti Sõna, or "Free Estonian Word," founded in 1949, which kept the Estonian-American diaspora connected and up to date on news from both home and the Soviet-occupied homeland. Nearly 70 years later, the paper's official editorial office remains located on the third floor of the New York Estonian House, but in modern e-Estonia style, editor-in-chief Kärt Ulman has been putting the weekly paper together from her home in Tallinn for three years.

  • foto
    ‘That Dutchman’: Why Peter Kentie’s brand proposal for Estonia should be taken very seriously
    17.07

    What Estonia has in common with the Dutch city of Eindhoven, why Kentie was the right man to create its new brand, and what will happen if those in charge aren’t kept from bungling it: Here is the long story of “Just estonishing”.

  • foto
    What can Western governments do to counteract radicalization?
    16.07

    You can’t kill a thought with a bullet. You can only defeat it with a stronger thought. As attacks continue, and the unrelenting effort and billions invested in the global war on terrorism haven’t brought results, the question arises what individual governments can do to curb the emergence of radical Islamism.

  • foto
    Interview: Pavlo Klimkin says Russia at war with both Ukraine and EU
    22.06

    What got Ukraine where it is today? Who is responsible for the mistakes of the past 25 years? What’s the oligarchs’ role in politics? ETV+ talked to Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin. Here is the full-length video interview in English.

  • foto
    Feature: The world's scariest dress rehearsal
    20.06

    On Sunday NATO member forces rehearsed for the final staged battle of the 2016 Sabre Strike exercise. The demonstration is to take place today in the Estonian Defence Forces' central training area close to Tapa in Lääne-Viru County. As artillery, anti-tank units, infantry, and air support unloaded their guns, Nicholas Marsh stood on "TV Hill" and watched in awe.

  • foto
    Trust your neighbor, pay less? The future of electricity production in Estonia
    18.06

    Historically, Estonia has exported electricity. The country’s policy to guarantee production capacity at 110% of its peak consumption as well as the remnants of its formerly state-run production system have made this possible. But the market and its conditions are changing.

  • foto
    Varnja: The people and potential on the shores of Lake Peipus
    12.06

    In a village of just 250 residents on the western, Estonian shore of the fifth-largest lake in Europe, known as Peipus ('Peipsi järv') in Estonian and Chudskoe in Russian, a mix of old blood and new — Russian-speakers and Estonians, Old Believers and newcomers — live and work side by side. Despite any differences, however, Varnja's residents have at least one thing in common: their belief in the village's potential.

  • foto
    Timmermans: EU needs to show it can deliver
    16.05

    First Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans was a panelist at the 10th Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn that ended on Sunday. In an interview with ERR's Neeme Raud, he said that the EU needed to show that it was making progress, and to explain more, so people could see its value.

  • foto
    Young immigrants' dream to marry European girls harder and harder to realize
    10.05

    ”Marry a beautiful European girl. I'm planning to do that as well,” Mohammed, a 25-year-old asylum seeker, says to his closest friend as they are drinking tea in the restaurant of one of the hotels turned refugee reception centers in Athens.

  • foto
    May 9: Europe Day for some, Victory Day for others
    09.05

    While the European Union celebrates Europe Day on May 9, in Russia it is Victory Day. This collision of holidays affects Tallinn, where pro-Putin activists of the group Nochnoy Dozor have called for a march through the city center.

  • foto
    Estonia’s great private schools debate: to fund or not to fund
    05.04

    A recently submitted letter of appeal co-signed by 75 leading figures of Estonian academia, culture and society in support of the country’s private schools has sparked a fierce new round of debates regarding a stalled bill proposing an amendment to an unconstitutional law which would release local governments from being required to fund the operational costs of private schools.

  • foto
    Estonians host five-day cultural festival in the heart of Manhattan
    28.03

    The New York Estonian community recently hosted its annual Estonian Cultural Days in NYC (“Eesti Kultuuripäevad New Yorgis”), a multi-day affair with concerts, theater performances, lectures, and other events spanning five days from March 23-27 and featuring Estonians from both the local diaspora and abroad.

  • foto
    National Language Day celebrated by Estonian youth around the world
    14.03

    Despite differences in number of students, fluency, budget, distance, and other constraints, Estonian Schools as well as kindergartens, children’s hobby groups, and other youth organizations around the world have made a point to celebrate Estonia's national language, whether on National Language Day or all year round.

  • foto
    Small islands get €640,000 to develop priority services
    08.03

    Starting today, funds can be applied for that will support projects to improve services for the inhabitants of Estonia’s small islands. The program includes 13 islands and total funds amounting to €640,000.

  • foto
    Eri Klas' funeral service
    03.03

    Composer and musician Eri Klas' funeral service took place in Estonia Concert Hall on Wednesday. Anyone who wanted to attend was welcome.