MANILA, Philippines—The eight Filipino seamen who were taken captive by Somali pirates were glad to be home, but sad that two of their companions did not make it.
“I’m so happy I’m finally home, but I’m also sad because we lost two of our colleagues,” an emotional Vicente Bugas Jr. told reporters on his arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) Terminal 1 Wednesday night.
Zhron Monzon and Stephen Barbarona died during a rescue mission launched by the Iranian Navy on April 2 to save the crew of the Iranian-owned, Cyprus-flagged bulk carrier Eglantine, which the pirates seized off the southwestern coast of India on March 26.
The rescue operation lasted two days and ended with the arrest of 12 pirates.
Monzon, 33, a native of Mauban, Quezon, was hit in the head by a bullet fired by the retreating pirates. Barbarona, 33, of Antequera, Bohol, suffocated in heavy smoke in the vessel’s engine room, where he hid during the gun battle.
The Eglantine had a crew of 23, of mixed nationalities. Ten of them were Filipinos.
According to Bugas, Barbarona was very close to him, as Barbarona was the godfather of his 2-year-old daughter, Princess.
“Like all of us, he must have been very scared, that’s why he went to the engine room to hide. But at that time, that area had already been engulfed by fire,” a teary-eyed Bugas said. “I really thought we would all die there, so I just prayed and surrendered my fate to God,” he said, holding the hand of his wife, Grace.
Napoleon Flores, a seaman for 20 years and has sailed to many parts of the world, said he was simply glad that he was returning safe to his family.
“I have gone on long journeys before, but this time coming home is really different,” Flores said. “I have mixed emotions, but certainly very grateful to be alive.”
Recounting his ordeal, Flores said the pirates knew about the Iranian Navy’s plan to stage the rescue.
He said the pirates bound them and used them as human shields during the fire fight with the Iranian commandos.
“We were taken hostage. We were held in one area and the pirates struck us whenever we refused to obey their orders,” Flores said. The pirates, he added, also ransacked the crew’s cabins.
“I thought we would all die there,” he said. “What was scary was simply being there…it was really hard. And what made it harder was the fact that we lost two of our colleagues.”
Asked if they would still consider working as seafarers, most of the seamen said that while economic opportunities overseas were better, they would now think twice before taking on new assignments.
Their families shared their view.
“Life is more important; money can be easily earned,” said Anna Abare, mother of seaman Rolando Abare Jr., 26. “Maybe I would just ask him to look for a job here.”
The other survivors of the hijacking who returned home on Wednesday were Reynante Lumaad, Diosdado Jancinal III, Ronel Esclares, Rowell Tabag and Andres Sanchez.
Meanwhile, the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (Owwa) said the families of Monzon and Barbarona would receive P200,000 in death and burial assistance. Their wives can avail themselves of Owwa’s livelihood program and their children, of educational assistance from the agency.