NEW DELHI, India -- Thirty-one shipwrecked seamen were plucked to safety by Indian navy helicopters Thursday after being stranded for 11 days off a remote Bay of Bengal island inhabited by Stone Age natives.
'The rescue operation was a complete success and the men are in very fine shape,' said Col. Prithvi Nath, a spokesman for the Indian defense forces.
Airmen lifted the crew from the Panamanian-registered freighter Primrose that ran aground Aug. 2 in the remote Andaman Islands 600-miles southeast of Calcutta, a defense spokesman said.
High winds and heavy seas held up the rescue for three days, but the weather finally cleared to allow the navy airmen to fly the crewmen to safety in two trips to Port Blair, capital of the Andaman Islands.
Nath said the crew was being cared for at an Indian navy facility.
'We still do not have complete details on the rescue mission,' Nath said, 'but the crew is in safe hands and probably will fly to Calcutta Friday.'
An Indian naval vessel, responding to an SOS, drew alongside the stranded ship Wednesday but the bad monsoon weather prevented a rescue attempt.
The saga of the Primrose began when it was blown onto a reef off North Sentinel Island, occupied by primitive tribesmen.
The Taiwanese captain of the Primrose sent an urgent message to Hong Kong pleading for weapons to use against 'wild island people carrying spears and arrows.'
The captain apparently became alarmed at the sight of the Sentinelese natives, who live a Stone Age type of life and have a fearsome reputation, according to officials in New Delhi. They number about 100 and in the past have reacted violently to outsiders.
But Nath emphasized an attack by the natives was never made and that at no time was the Primrose crew threatened with physical harm by them.
He described the natives as 'primitive' and said 'they are not used to civilized people,' but said navy crews who supply them with food and cloth have never been attacked.
North Sentinel is one of about 500 islands in the Andamans group that is governed by India. When Britain ruled India it imprisoned many Indian politicians in a penal colony at Port Blair.