Somali pirates ‘beat me and threatened us with guns’

2010-11-16 07:33

A South African yacht skipper has described the harrowing experience he and two crew members endured at the hands of Somali pirates.

“It was a scary experience. They beat me and threatened us with guns. I refused to leave the yacht and I was prepared to sink with the pirates,” said Peter Eldridge.

He was addressing the media for the first time since being rescued off the Somali coast on November 7.

A Durban couple – Bruno Pelizzari and his girlfriend, Deborah Calitz – were not so lucky, as they were taken from the yacht SY Choizil by the armed pirates.

The yacht was attacked by pirates – men aged between 15 and 50 – on October 26.

Eldridge said: “I refused to leave the yacht because I had made peace with myself. I refused because everything I had was in that yacht.”

Explaining his ordeal, Eldridge said they were off the Kenyan coast – on their way from Dar es Salaam,Tanzania, to Richards Bay – when they were captured by heavily armed pirates.

Ordinary people
“They demanded money. They took the money that Deborah and Pelizzari were carrying for their families.

They demanded more and we told them that we did not have more because we were ordinary people.”

The pirates refused to believe them.

“They said we were from Britain because we were white. This was despite the fact that we showed them our passports.”

He had been assaulted and a firearm had been discharged when he refused to leave the vessel. But the skipper was not injured.

A visibly distressed Eldridge said the yacht had run aground when the pirates forced them to leave it.

Time loses all meaning
The experience he had at the hands of the pirates was so harrowing that knowing the day or time had become irrelevant.

The pirates were armed with AK47s, rockets and R4s.

“The issue of the pirates was discussed before we began our journey, but we believed that they would only rob us and leave us to continue if they caught us.”

Eldridge was a member of the Zululand Yacht Club, which uses the Richards Bay Harbour as its base.

He said a French warship patrolling the area tried to help them before the yacht ran aground, but was attacked by the pirates with rockets.

“I was told to tell the warship to leave. I talked with the crew and I managed to tell them that we were South Africans,” he said.

Eldridge was eventually rescued by the warship.

The warship had responded after Eldridge had sent out a distress message (May Day) when he saw they were being followed by pirates.

Although the pirates beat him and threatened the crew with guns, Eldridge described them as “respective”.

“When Deborah had a bath, they gave her space and she had her bath without any interruptions,” he said.

The international relations and co-operation department said on Sunday the pirates had not yet communicated with anyone.

Keeping hope alive
Eldridge said the fact that the pirates who held a British couple hostage, Paul and Rachel Chandler, had just been released after more than a year in captivity, gave him hope that his friends would also be released.

The Chandlers were released after 388 days in captivity and flown to safety in Kenya on Sunday.

It was reported that a ransom was paid to the gang that had kept them.

In a statement issued later, Deborah’s brother, Dale van der Merwe, denied reports that his sister was of British or Italian descent.

“She does not have any British ties and has never set foot in Britain. We are worried that should her captors read this ... it may skew their perception of who Debbie really is and try attach values to her, as in the case of the recently released British Chandler couple.”

He said the couple were “ordinary workers”. They had been sailing for almost two years, stopping at ports on Africa’s coast to “visit and do occasional work”.

“The truth is that they sailed a boat to Dar es Salaam and got work to sail another back to South Africa, where they were hoping to visit with us after not seeing their children and family for such a long time. Anyone who knows or meets them (including their captors) will see that they are soft and kind people who are not interested in politics but who only love sailing,” he said.

The family asked the couple’s captors to keep them unharmed, and release them back to their families.

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