Jiang Lichun ducks whenever he hears a sharp sound even remotely resembling a gunshot. His instinct was born out of fear after he saw Somali pirates shoot one of his fellow sailors.
Equally harrowing an experience for him were the 202 days he spent in Somali pirates' captivity.
The fear in Jiang is still palpating: "I will never go back to sea," says the Liaoning province native.
Jiang, his cousin and 9 other crewmates boarded the Qingfenghua 168, a Taiwan fishing vessel, on April 16, 2007. Everything was fine for the first two days: fishing, playing mahjong and watching DVDs. But all that changed on April 18, when their vessel was 220 nautical miles away from Somalia's coast.
No one knew what had happened, " I heard the captain scream 'run'," Jiang says. But before "we could react", heavily armed pirates boarded the ship from three speedboats. A few minutes and two gunshots later, all the sailors were herded into the captain's room.
The International Maritime Bureau said last year that Somali pirates hijacked 42 of the 111 ships they attacked and were still holding 14 of those vessels.
China sent two navy destroyers and a large supply ship on December 25 to protect ships from piracy in Somali waters.
Jiang says that at the beginning, more than 10 pirates kept round-the-clock watch over their captives. Though fewer pirates were on "guard" later, there was no let up in the torture. The pirates beat up the sailors three to four times a day.
Jiang realized only later why the pirates were using violence: to instill fear among the captives.
The fear reached its peak on May 25. The pirates had asked the ship owner to pay $300,000 as ransom for the release of the sailors. But the owner refused to pay. This enraged the pirates who found easy victims in their captives , Jiang says.
Around 6 am on the fateful day, the pirates carried Chen Tao, also a Liaoning native, to the deck, and fastened him to a post. "We heard six gunshots but no one could believe Chen was dead," he says. "The blood was all over the deck."
The pirates made Chen's murder look like an execution, and threatened the owner that if he did not pay the ransom, more sailors would meet their deaths the same way.
After Chen's murder, "we thought no one would leave the ship alive", Jiang says.
Desperate to make money anyway they could, the pirates began searching the sailors' bags on June 2, and took away everything worth value, including three mobile phones and clothes, he says.
Things improved a bit a month later, with the pirates reducing the number of their "daily beatings". Sometimes, they even "chatted with us and let us play mahjong and watch DVDs".
"And then a week before our release, a warship and several helicopters began hovering around us That instilled some life back into me and I thought we could be freed," he says.
The good news came on November 5, 2007. "We were told that the ship owner had paid $220,000 to the pirates. Shortly after that in the afternoon we were allowed to leave.
"But it all seemed like a dream I couldn't believe it I wanted to cry," he says.
After deciding to "lead a life on land", Jiang got married in his hometown. And though he has vowed never to return to sea, he is still haunted by the nightmarish 202 days of his captivity. Not surprisingly, he says: "I fully support the move (of the Chinese navy taking action against the pirates) The armed forces should protect the people."
(China Daily January 5, 2009)