By Ganesh Nadar, IANS
Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) : Worrying constantly, the families of three men from Vadakankulam village in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district — among the six oil sector workers abducted by a militant group in Nigeria — are waiting for an Italian firm to pay the ransom so that the men can come home.
The three men — Ajit Kamaraj, Ponnambalam Vinod and Kumaresan Mohandas — work for Italian oil company Saipem and were on board a vessel attached to an offshore oil rig when they, along with two Poles and an Indian worker from Maharashtra, were kidnapped Oct 26.
The abductors are said to have initially demanded a $50 million ransom, which media reports said has been lowered since then.
Ajit’s father Jeyapal runs a grocery shop in the village. Trying not to show his grief, he told IANS that his son has a diploma in mechanical engineering and has been working in Nigeria for the past three years. Ajit, 34, is married and has a two-year-old son, he added.
“He calls us once a week, but calls his wife regularly. He came home for a month’s leave this October and went back only on Oct 23. Just three days later he was abducted,” Jeyapal said.
Vinod’s sister Zeenat said he has been working in Nigeria for two-and-a-half years. The 31-year-old also has a diploma in mechanical engineering and is the father of a 10-month-old son.
Vinod was in Vadakankulam on leave last month. “The last time he spoke to me was on Saturday,” Zeenat said.
Her husband Wilson told IANS: “We are in touch with two of his co-workers who also work for the same company. The company has also given us a number, which we can contact for the latest update on the hostages.”
Wilson has also worked in Nigeria. “I have met locals there. They hate foreign companies. They feel their oil wealth is being looted by white men, while the locals are still in misery,” he recalled.
When he was in Nigeria, 20 Palestinian oil workers were abducted but were released after a week in captivity.
“The Italian company is very big. They can afford to pay the ransom, but they will do so after a lot of bargaining,” he said.
Kumaresan, 37, is a science graduate and has two daughters aged 14 and seven. He joined the Italian company only two months ago and was working in Mumbai before that.
His wife Radhika is distraught but the children are trying to put on a brave front. He last spoke to his family Oct 25 and had not expressed any fear or concern.
Radhika said: “I don’t know whom to contact for help.”
Kumaresan’s mother said: “All this attention we are getting from the press is making us feel worse. The more I read about it, the worse I feel.”
Vadakankulam is a big village with a population of over 10,000. More than 400 people from here work overseas and over 200 work on oil rigs.
One of the villagers, Yesuthiyagarajan, claims the three abducted workers aren’t engineers.
He said: “None of these boys have really studied to be engineers. After finishing their schooling, these boys go to Mumbai and work till they learn Hindi. Then they buy diplomas from Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. They use these diplomas to get jobs on oil rigs.
“People from this village have been buying diplomas for years. Now they have gone one step further and have started printing diplomas in the village itself.”
Whether they are real engineers or not, the families of the abducted workers are waiting with bated breath for their release as the Italian company bargains for the lives of its employees.