Every day for the past eight months, Singaporean fishing boat captain Ricky Tan Poh Hui wondered when he would be reunited with his wife and 12-year-old daughter.
Late last night, Mr Tan, who had been detained by the Indonesian authorities since August last year for trespassing in Indonesian waters, finally returned to Singapore shores.
He was freed last week and, by Tuesday, had left the Tanjung Pinang Naval Base, where he had been held. After repairing his boat, he began his journey of about five hours home yesterday. In the wee hours of this morning, Mr Tan arrived at Marina Country Club on the Seven Seas Conqueress - the vessel he had been detained on.
"I definitely feel relieved," the 45-year-old told The Straits Times.
Opening up about his experience over the past eight months, Mr Tan said that although he did not go to prison in Indonesia, he lived on his boat with three members of his Indonesian boat crew. He was not allowed to leave the naval base.
I thought about my family every day, especially my daughter. Initially, I didn't tell her that I was detained. I just said that I was working... Each time, she would ask when I was returning home. I couldn't answer.
FISHING BOAT CAPTAIN RICKY TAN
Almost every day, he called home to speak to his mother and daughter. "I thought about my family every day, especially my daughter," he said. "Initially, I didn't tell her that I was detained. I just said that I was working."
But as time wore on, he told her the truth. "Each time, she would ask when I was returning home. I couldn't answer," he added.
While he was being held, he would watch television, but there was nothing much else to do.
Now, Mr Tan looks forward to taking a good rest at home and returning to work in a week.
"I already have bookings for fishing trips," he said.
Mr Tan was at the helm of the Seven Seas Conqueress when it was stopped by an Indonesian navy patrol on Aug 20 last year in waters off Bintan, according to the Indonesian authorities. They said the boat did not have permission to enter Indonesian waters and that it was fishing illegally.
But Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the boat was detained within Singapore territorial waters off Pedra Branca.
Mr Tan eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months' probation last Wednesday. If he were to re-offend during his probation period, he would be jailed for three months. He was also fined five million rupiah (S$520).
Mr Tan's release leaves one more Singaporean boat captain detained in Indonesia.
Mr Shoo Chiau Huat, 50, was arrested on April 16 last year, also off Bintan. On Wednesday, the local court dismissed the charge against him of sailing in Indonesia's waters without a permit. But Mr Shoo has to wait for the verdict on an appeal against his acquittal on an earlier charge of illegal fishing, before he can return to Singapore as well.
A fellow angler, Mr Paulson Yuen, 60, was among those waiting to welcome Mr Tan home yesterday.
Mr Yuen, who goes fishing with Mr Tan on his boat four to five times a year in the South China Sea, said he was surprised that the captain had been detained.
He said Mr Tan had always been careful when dealing with immigration matters out at sea.
"We were surprised when he was detained. Ricky is not a reckless person. We look forward to going fishing with Ricky again," he added. "I'm really very happy for him."