Bandits of the sea

By admin
12 November 2010

The news hit South Africans like a tidal wave: two South African citizens had been overpowered by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and held hostage. A third South African managed to escape.

On 1 November the trio were sailing their yacht from Dar-es-Salaam to South Africa when they were attacked by pirates close to the Kenyan coast and forced to sail to waters off the Somali mainland.

Once there owner Peter Eldridge of Richards Bay refused to leave his yacht, which he reportedly built 20 years ago, and the pirates left on foot with the hostages. Shortly afterwards Peter was picked up by a French warship.

Durbanites Bruno Pelizzari and his partner, known only as Deborah, have now become statistics in this part of Africa – two of more than 500 people and at least 28 vessels in Somali pirates’ hands until millions are paid in ransom for their release.

Piracy is a serious problem worldwide. Despite warships patrolling problem areas since last year there had been 289 incidents by September this year. This is fewer than the 406 in 2009 but by the end of the year the total is expected to be higher than previous years.

Although Somalis are the biggest culprits this worrying menace is rife in other parts of the world too.

It’s all about money for the pirates who target from cargo vessels to tankers, trawlers and yachts and often use the larger vessels to launch smaller, faster boats for attacks.

The Somalis recently showed how skilled they are at piracy when they received a record R62 million on 6 November for the release of the Samho Dream, a South Korean oil tanker hijacked in April in the Indian Ocean. The crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos were taken hostage.

It’s been a long time since the typical pirate wore an eye-patch and carried a cutlass; today’s pirates are more likely to drive flashy cars and live in palatial homes like rock stars – in stark contrast to the modest dwellings occupied their countrymen.

The majority of Somali pirates are 20 to 35 years’ old and seasoned seamen, many of them with naval experience. They’re backed up by uneducated teenagers with no future prospects, boys with nothing to lose and eager for a bit of adventure. GPS apparatus and satellite phones are used to co-ordinate attacks.

The men are fearless, sophisticated, cunning, greedy and desperate citizens of a country wracked by starvation and lawlessness.

It’s virtually impossible to effectively patrol the Somali pirates’ hunting ground because it covers about four million square kilometres, experts say.

Read the full article in YOU, 18 November 2010.

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