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Somalia: South African Sailors Held Hostage - Update

By Sue Richards last modified Nov 12, 2010 10:34 AM

Published: 2010-11-12 10:34:41
Topics: Piracy & Security
Countries: Somalia , South Africa

Details from Ecoterra International

South-African yacht SY CHOIZIL, owned and sailed by South African skipper Peter Eldridge from Richards Bay with crew members Bruno Pelizzari and his partner Deborah, was sea-jacked 31. October 2010 after having left Dar es Salaam in Tanzania,

See initial report here. More details of this incident are now available.

The trio are said to have encountered the pirates on 31. October 2010 in the open sea, although the question of exactly where still remains unanswered (see bottom of report).

At least one of the attacking pirates appeared to have been from Tanzania and spoke KiSwahili. However, the sloop rigged sailing yacht set up for long distance cruising was then commandeered to Somalia by five Somalis - apparently with the aim to reach Harardheere at the Central Somali coast.

When observers sighted a yacht near the Bajuni Island of Koyaama off the Southern coast of Somalia on 4 November, the search for a missing yacht was on in order to identify the boat and the sailors, but neither the Seychelles nor the cruisers network reported any missing yacht.

Attack and Escape
EU NAVFOR then began trailing the yacht (See initial report here for details) forcing it to run aground close to Baraawa (Brawa). SY CHOIZIL's skipper Peter reportedly jumped over board during a close naval swoop, when also shots were fired and a naval helicopter and a commando team in a speedboat were engaged. Other reports state that the skipper managed to escape when he refused to leave the boat he built with his own hands 20 years ago. However, Peter Eldridge was later picked up by the navy and was placed safely on a Dutch naval vessel. After he arrived at the Kenyan harbour of Mombasa on board the Dutch warship, he was handed over to South African officials and brought to Kenya's capital Nairobi on Monday, from where he returned to South-Africa.

First reports were of a man being shot and a woman and a boy being taken hostage by the pirates. However it has now been confirmed that the 2 hostages are Eldridge´s crew members, Bruno Pelizzari and his partner Deborah. Pelizzari’s family members and government authorities say Pelizzari, a South African of Italian origin, is described as being a small man, so it could have been assumed that a teenager was kidnapped. His girlfriend Deborah is said to be South-African, from Durban, of British decent. The couple are reportedly being held hostage south of Baraawa (Brawa) and no ransom demands have been made. Their families are sick with worry while they wait to hear from the kidnappers.

Reports state that the two sailors held hostage set off for Madagascar a year ago. Bruno Pelizzari, in his 50s, worked earlier for a company that serviced lifts. He started sailing 5 or 6 years ago and, according to a friend, left Durban on a yacht with his partner Deobrah about a year ago to explore the open seas and look for work. The couple met Peter Eldridge, an engineer, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, who wanted to sail his yacht from Dar es Salaam for KwaZulu-Natal, because the yacht was in need of repairs. Fellow yachtsman Peter Olivier stated: "They are such nice people and they love sailing. Peter is a great guy and is experienced. Bruno is a quiet man but really nice. They are good people."

Fate of the Yacht
Andrew Mwangura, co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said earlier he assumed the yacht had been towed to Mombasa as could have been expected with all the naval presence, but latest information ECOTERRA Intl. received from Somalia say the yacht was left behind by the naval forces. Peter Eldridge's wife, Bernadette, told later the South African Times that she did not know whether her husband Peter would return to Somalia to retrieve what's left of his yacht, SY Choizil, which was run aground by the pirates.

Open Questions

Man Killed?
Questions are still open concerning a possible fourth person on board or a second yacht, because reports still speak of a man having been killed in Baraawa (Brawa).

Pirates, several residents and al-Shabaab members, who also control Baraawe, had told Reuters on 07. November that a hostage had been shot dead, but that maybe referred to the skipper, who had disappeared from local peoples's view and was picked up by the navies. He either jumped overboard in the naval swoop or - compared with other hostage cases in Somalia more unlikely - was allowed to stay back on the yacht when the hostage takers left the boat with the couple.

While the South African International Relations and Cooperation Department had confirmed that no South African man was killed in the incident, the Spokesman for the department, Saul Molobi, would only say the man killed was not South African.

Per Klingvall, spokesman for EU NAVFOR, however, said the anti-piracy task force had no information about anyone being killed, and that the rescued yachtsman had not been shot.

Disputed Location of Attack
Early pieces of information originating from the Seychelles through the Seafarer's networks indicated that the yacht had possibly been abducted either from the Seychelles, Kenya or off Baraawa (Brawa) in Somalia.

However, a press release from the Office of the Seychelles Minister for Home Affairs, Environment and Transport, Minister Joel Morgan, stated on 09. November that the Seychelles Coast Guard and the EU NAVFOR Atalanta representative in Seychelles have confirmed that the yacht was not taken hostage in Seychelles waters, but that the incident took place in Kenyan waters. Likewise the International Relations Department officials in Pretoria and European Union authorities have also said the yacht was captured by pirates off the coast of Kenya.

But South African yachtsman, Peter Olivier, who lives in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam, still cannot understand why his friends are said to have been attacked further north and off Kenya and not on their way south from Dar es Salaam, since they had planned to sail south to dock the yacht in Richards Bay in South Africa.

Though the skipper refused to speak to the media it is believed that he had been debriefed by the navies and other officials, who released their statements with naming Kenyan waters as the location where the attack had allegedly taken place. However, why the yacht, which was supposed to sail from Dar es Salaam south to South Africa, should have gone North to Kenya and then allegedly encountered the pirates there, was not explained by any of the official statements nor the owner.

Other naval sources, however, still maintain that the attack took place on the open sea at the boundary between Tanzania and Mozambique.