Gulf of Aden, Somalia – German Couple Siezed by Pirates

Published 15 years ago, updated 5 years ago

June 23, 2008.

On the morning of Monday 23 June, a German couple were taken hostage off the coast of northern Somalia in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aden. The Gulf of Aden is only 75nm wide at its narrowest point, giving cruising yachtsmen little chance against speed boats in pursuit. When pirates discovered the German yacht “Rockall” off the coast of Somalia an uneven race started. Two speedboats captured the sailing boat.

The couple were en route from Egypt to Thailand. The hostages were a middle-aged couple from Southern Germany, Sabine Merck (age 51) and Juergen Kantiner(age 63).

The pirates left the yacht near Laasgoray and retreated into the hinterland, the border area between Somaliland and Puntland. It’s believed the hostages were held in a camp near a place called Badnan. This is “no-mans-land”, where clans, militias, pirates, and semi-autonomous provincial governments rule – anyone, except the state.

The pirates demanded a ransom of US$2 million.

Seventeen days later, and the couple were still being held hostage. They had been in contact with their families, the German Federal Police, and the German Embassy and told family members they were “well given the circumstances”.

Mr. Jama, an official with a Puntland human rights agency, was allowed to visit the Germans and found that Mr Kantiner “only (had) three days of (diabetic) medical supplies left.” He was reportedly given additional medical supplies soon after. He also stated that Sabine Merck “is in good health,” but was roughed up during the initial kidnapping when she was reportedly “beaten lightly.” According to Mr. Jama the hostages were well fed and had “their own cook.” He added “they (the Germans) are taken around each day, but the place is like Tora Bora (the mountains in Afghanistan where the Taliban hide).”

On Friday 8 August following payment of the ransom (reported to be $1 million) the pair were freed after 41 days in captivity. They were taken to Bosasso from where they were airlifted to Nairobi, Kenya.

The couple complained a lot that they were harassed. It was not clear if the full ransom had been paid to free the hostages from the pirates’ mountain stronghold, although initial reports indicate that some big money exchanged hands.

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