Letters From Chennai: Anti-Piracy Crew's Six Months of Hell, Part 3/3
The ETV investigative television 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 English in the original.
6 February 2014
We got some more money loaded to the prison account and that will allow us to buy cleaning supplies. The day before yesterday, we got a scouring brush and the parashas [latrines] are now gleaming. Today is sunny weather and we can warn our ulcerated mosquito bites in the sunshine. The local insects are cretins. When a normal Estonian mosquito bites you, it does so to feed, but the mosquitoes here try to mess you up so thoroughly that you feel ill all over. They don’t even make a normal whining sound but bite you in the most idiotic places. soles of feet, cuticles, earlobes, eyelids, the skin between toes. Idiotic I tell you.
Romka got a new pairs of underclothes yesterday, oh what joy. It started with Paul getting a package with a huge amount of all sorts of T-shirts and underwear. Since Romka’s old ones were so thin that you could see, well, all of his equipment, then it was decided by unanimous vote that 2 pairs of Irish-constructed boxers should go to Romka. He was really happy and gave one of the pairs to me.
I’m very happy with my Salomon Speedcross IIIs. Very good running shoes, no external damage. Because the ground surface here is like sandpaper, the soles are worn. I'm treating them like my prized possessions and I'll put them on if and when I ever get on that plane home. Afterwards, I will donate them to the Salomon museum, if there’s one.
8 February 2014
Today the guys from cage 2 had kitchen duty. Their head chef Vasya tends to make very good grub out of poor quality ingredients. No disappointment this time. There was no meat, but the old guys made a mean cabbage stew with mashed potatoes. The meal was ready by 16:30. Tomorrow is my turn in the kitchen. I have no idea what to make.
No news right now, once again. We wake up each day with hopes that crumble by nightfall. I hope that today – maybe today we’ll get out. Oh well.
9 February 2014
In general, Sunday is the longest day here. It just drags on. Everyone waits for Monday to bring something new. Today it was our turn in the kitchen, so at least the day went by quickly. When the prisoners went to the old kitchen to get their ingredients, the prisoners commented that we are Americans and terrorists. The media must be working wonders in this country.
One day, a two-star officer came up to me in the old kitchen and told me I was an American. He got under my skin. I shouted in his face that I don’t intend to take his insults. I mean, him a senior officer and doesn’t know what nationality I am. For a second, the old guy looked like he wanted to reach for a bamboo cane and I hoped from the bottom of my heart that he would. But yeah, unfortunately a ray of sense must have come into his head and he turned away and walked off.
What they’re doing here with us here is totally absurd, an outrage!!! We lack any kind of information, and our questions aren’t answered in video court, the officials haven’t told us what we’re accused of and we haven’t been interrogated. What do they want to achieve by all this?
10 February 2014
Today we had a good laugh. An Iranian shaved his head. He looks like a first-class skinhead. So I taught him how to execute a Nazi salute and put the other hand on his lip, in imitation of a Hitler moustache [a mock gesture made by schoolboys]. Now I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, since he is housed with Nigerians. Hope he lasts the night.
I’ve read several dozen books here, but not much of it's edifying material. My English has got much better and so has my Russian. I have a deal with the Russians that they speak their native language and of course you can only talk in English with the Brits. My cursing has gotten much, much better in both languages. :P
11 February 2014
The morning starts with pull-ups, I count down from 10. Then some sit-ups with a bar (which we nicked and used to be a streetlight). At 13:30 we get the bar out again and do pull-ups from one to ten and then down to one again. Afterwards, push-ups and finally I hang on the bar as long as possible with Zeba spotting and counting the seconds. I can’t do any leg exercises thanks to my bum knee. The Iranian is alive and well and he told me today about various wines and flavours. I told him, “Mahmud – that's haram!” But he claimed that it was OK to talk and think about wine.
13 February 2014
I don’t know what time it is. We reached Tuticorin jail. We met the ship crew. The first officer and a Hindu security man's hair has turned grey.
14 February 2014
Now back in court. It was like I expected. We were given books with 2,100 or more pages. For the most part it was copies of ship documents. It was torture to go there. We waited in a bus that was as hot as a sauna nearly the whole day, sweaty and starving, to spend 20 minutes in court and get three books that were literally full of rubbish (I plan to give these books to the Estonian public prosecutor’s office). We had practically nothing to eat over two days. The senior mechanic collapsed in the courtroom and an ambulance had to come and take him away. The courtroom was like my grandfather’s attic, except dirtier and dingier.
17 February 2014
The trip back from court´, well, that is, from another prison. 15 hours in a cramped old bus. We got in a traffic jam and there we were for three hours. Thousands of Hindus around us, spitting on the ground and calling us US terrorists and Italians. It’s a miracle that we got away in one piece.
25 February 2014
Now we’re again in a one-hole shithouse. We got two piss breaks in 13 hours. :) Nice. Billy’s bladder was bursting and he asked for a stop. They said they would stop in 5 minutes. Hah. 5 minutes in India is about 2 hours. William told them that he would pee out the window. After which the bus didn't stop, of course. Billy told the police with stoic calm that maybe you want to move away a little, and opened the window and relieved himself, getting some of the slower police nice and wet. The view of this from the street must have been a good one.
28 February 2014
My fellow captives and I have lost confidence in the work the Foreign Ministry is doing. They don’t send materials and apparently censor letters both ways. After our first trip to Tuticorin, we sent a joint letter to the Foreign Ministry, meant for the Foreign Ministry and the Estonian government and concerning our lives and health in connection with transport and escort. That disappeared somewhere. We sent it through the British consult, maybe he still has it?
Lately Billy and I have been giving gifts to each other. Today I got a nice boiled egg with a broken shell. I haven’t given him anything today, but I have some ideas. If I find a nice fat cockroach, I can put it between some bread and the gift is ready to deliver. I can also add some leaves to make it nicer to eat.
4 March 2014
As expected, it’s getting hotter and all sorts of new critters are appearing. The mosquitoes are getting more brazen every day and the prison guards more obtuse. It’s all because of the temperature rising. The Iranians are starting to get a head of hair again and the Nigerians got days added on to their term because of some drug deals gone bad.
Some locals got a good hiding in the guards’ room today, and the locals endured it with clear relish. I tried on myself what a bamboo cane feels like on the soles of your feet – a surprisingly unusual sensation. Like someone is tickling you but then it turns into sharp pain that hits right up to your brain and down into your eyes with a crack. Quite a worthy sensation, in a word, leaving an indelible memory.
The way of thinking in this prison is completely incomprhensible to us as former Soviet subjects. Here it’s a thing of honour to be a snitch. The local snitches rat on everything. Even themselves. It’s unbelievable but the God’s honest truth. An example: There was a suspicion that someone had a cell phone, so the whole cell block was lined up. The guard, an officer, asked who had the phone. The biggest snitch in the block stepped up right away and said something like, "Sir, to do a service for you, I’ll tell you immediately that I have the gadget and it’s mine, I bought it from a cellmate, who got it for selling forbidden cigarettes from the mess hall block elder, who sold drugs to the guard Risvan for the telephone, which I bought using cannabis I bought from the Nigerians."
6 March 2014
We found a ladder. The ladder weighs about three tons. Vladka says we will have to work out for another six months, then we can take the ladder and use it to escape. (Flaws in the plan: iron ladder, live barbed wire!)
23 February 2014
If we don’t get bail this time, then I’m giving up on India ever making the right decision and we’ll have to resign ourselves to a longer term. It’s been intimated to us that a court can’t by definition result in a positive outcome for us and we won’t see justice. Thus, be strong, and carry on. They can’t give us more than 10 years!