Caught overseas in a riot

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A day from my life!

It was just another normal day in PT Pertama shipyard when I was heading for an office meeting with the General Manager. The year was 2010 and I was newly married. Still fairly green, I was posted as a project manager in Batam island in Indonesia just outside of Singapore where I was working on a container ship converted to livestock carrier for orient lines. All of a sudden, I received a call around 9.05 am from my boss (General Manager) who told me that a major fight had started between Indian expatriates and locals. He sounded serious, asked me about my location and if other attendees for the meeting had arrived? Upon my confirmation, he instructed to immediately call off the meeting & advised everyone to evacuate shipyard immediately.

As soon as we came out from the meeting the local HR manager escorted me and others to a safe section of the company & confirmed the spread of riots in the industrial estate including shipyards. We were in a group surrounded by security personnel.  I ran to alert some of my other friends as the mobile network was weak in that safety zone.

I immediately called my wife, who is a doctor and was working in a hospital in Batam to get back home collect only bare essentials i.e. documents,  passport, cards and cash and head for Singapore which was 30 minutes by ferry. I told her to go to a hotel in Singapore and wait for me and hide my passport under the foot mat of the main entrance outside our house. I was very concerned about her and wanted her to be safe even if I could not make it. She took the ferry and left Indonesia immediately.

I on the other hand was stuck in the shipyard. We were surrounded by a mob of locals and they were furious, violent, burning cars, destroying properties and beating expatriates. I passed my car keys to a local friend and told him to drive my car to his place and keep it safe meanwhile, HR made arrangements for our evacuation. After a long discussion with locals, we all were escorted from a floating dock in 3 tug boats (sea route) escorted by the navy. We sailed towards Sekupang a secluded area away from shipyard. There we were provided safe shelter by the Indonesian Navy.

Upon reaching Sekupang, I realised almost 300-400 Indian families had collected there along with Indian High Commissioner. It was a secured zone with lots of armed army & navy personals. It was been discussed that all these family were to be airlifted to Medan. Upon listening to the plans I approached Indian High commissioner (I had met him earlier on various occasions) and told him that I must go to Singapore as my wife was in Singapore.

Meanwhile, I called up my company driver and requested him to retrieve my passport which my wife had left behind. All my good deeds paid off and he not only did came with my passport but also helped me to reach the local ferry terminal. I changed my dress in office as I always carried a spare. Thus at 2300 hours, I arrived in Singapore.  My mobile was dead hence I had no clue where my wife was. Finally, I used a public booth called her and got the address. As I was not carrying cash so took a cab headed for the hotel and asked my wife to pay the bills.

It was a narrow escape from the dead zone to free Singapore. We stayed in this hotel for 22 days, all expenses borne by the company. Then the situation got normalised and with our local friends, we understood it was safe to return home for final clearing. It was not a very good farewell for several families had to leave all of a sudden due to these riots. I had to sell my first car, a house which included our brand new furniture which my wife had bought just 2 weeks before the riots.

It was quite tough at a young age to experience all this but then the show must go on and I once again set my foot to newer destinations. Travelling & working in various countries globally. By God's grace and blessings, lesson learnt is never to give up hope, no matter it may get dark and it may seem "it is over". But it's not over until you say it's over!

And so it ends for a fresh start…

Abhishek Srivastava is a Project Manager, Shipyards & Oil and gas industry. A marine engineer by profession, he has worked across several countries including Qatar, India, Singapore and Indonesia. he love meeting people, making new friends and traveling the world.

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author.

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