A merchant navy engineer, who, along with his crew, was wrongly accused of felony and imprisoned on foreign land without any hopes of extradition, has come back, safe and sound, to recount his tale. Two weeks after his return, we meet Jogesh Chandra Das (51), for his story that sounds straight out of a Hollywood thriller.
Two years back, Jogesh Chandra Das left India on an assignment with his team. He was the chief engineer on a merchant navy ship, who left his college-student daughter and wife back. It was supposed to be a routine trip. On July 22, 2014, while on their way from Ghana to Cameroon, their ship veered into Nigerian waters — a territory they did not have permission to charter into. “Everything was going fine,” he recounts. “However, suddenly, the captain of the ship informed us of some technical glitch and we found ourselves stranded in the middle of nowhere. The Nigerian navy approached us and commanded us to anchor. We had no reason to suspect anything. But, once we docked, they slapped drug smuggling charges on us. They seized our ship and threw us into the Yenugua Prison at Bayasala in Southern Nigeria,” Das tells us.
Even before the 12 men could figure out what was going on, they were slapped with a fine of Rs 200 crores. “The EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) of the country and the Nigerian Navy asked for a payment of Rs. 200 crores for our release. We were unable to pay the sum,” Das tells us. They hired an advocate instead who led the Nigerian authorities to the seized ship for a search. “Of course they found nothing there. No drugs. It was a scrap ship. So, we registered a case against them on grounds of human rights,” says Das. It seemed like a ray of hope when the Nigerian authorities made a deal with them — they promised to withdraw the false charges if Das and his team withdrew their human rights violation case. However, the deal turned out to be a ruse!
Recalling the horrific condition of the prison, Das shivers. “We could not eat the boiled rice and beans they served us. I was diabetic, two of my mates had fractured their legs and there was zero medical facility. After a lot of political red-tapism, the Ministry of External Affairs started sending us Rs 4 thousand each month. We started cooking rice and dal in the cell itself,” he shares.
In the meanwhile, his family back in India was running from pillar to post to bring him back. His daughter Sreyashi, who was a student of animation in Delhi, had to leave her studies mid-way and get a job to support the family. “Sreyashi managed everything single-handedly. For quite some time, she made sure her mother had no knowledge of the ordeal. However, when all her pleas to the government officials failed to bring any result, she told her mother and both of them met the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. “My sister-in-laws family helped us a lot too,” beamed the proud father. Das finally returned home on July 3, 2016, after a two-year nightmare.
Getting back to the grind is his primary focus now. “I have not been paid for the last two years. I am hoping my arrears will be cleared soon. I will also have to start looking for a job soon. My family and I would like a fresh start,” concludes Das.