The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) is seeking to to confirm whether two people taken hostage on a yacht off the Somali coast were South African.
“We have many partners there that will help us [such as] the government’s social development departments and the United Nations,” says spokesman Saul Kgomotso Molobi. He says he cannot speculate on when the identity of the hostages will be confirmed, the South African Press Association reports.
“As soon as investigations are completed then my colleagues will communicate the information to me.”
In a statement overnight Molobi said: “We are, with our international partners in Somalia, investigating the identity of the other two kidnapped individuals who are thought to be South African citizens.”
The statement followed reports that a man, who was with a woman and a child on a yacht, was killed yesterday by Somali pirates. The reports claimed the man was South African. “The department… would like to confirm that the deceased person… who is alleged to have been killed by the Somali pirates, as the media reports purport, is not a South African citizen,” Molobi said.
Reuters reported that a South African man was shot dead on Sunday after he refused to disembark from a yacht hijacked by Somali pirates last week.
The agency reported the man was killed in Barawe town on the southern Somalia coastline by pirates who had taken him hostage and wanted him to go onshore from his yacht in which he was sailing with others, including a woman and a boy. The report quoted Andrew Mwangura, head of East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, confirming the yacht was anchored off Somalia’s coastline near Barawe.
He said his organisation was investigating reports of a possible hijacking of the sailors, believed to be tourists. “What I know is there was a yacht spotted by local people in southern Somalia, and we are trying to investigate reports of hostages and to verify their nationality,” Mwangura told Reuters.
The agency also quoted an Al Shabaab (an Al Qaeda-linked rebel group which controls Barawe) rebel spokesperson saying the hostage killed was South African, SAPA added.
Piracy is rife off the coast of Somalia in east Africa, disrupting shipping lanes between Europe and Asia, putting crews and vessels in danger and forcing up insurance rates for shipowners.
A Danish warship last week boarded a pirate supply vessel off the coast of Somalia, captured six suspected pirates and then sank the ship. The suspects were later freed on the coast, a Danish naval command spokesman said. “They had not committed anything criminal at sea — they were just on the wrong boat, with the wrong gear at the wrong time,” spokesman Kenneth Nielsen said. “They had equipment on board that could be used in piracy.”
The European Union Naval Force in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen says pirates are holding 20 vessels with more than 430 hostages. Typically they ask a ransom for their release.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) last month said its piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur recorded 39 hijackings from January to September this year, up from 34 in the same period last year and only 11 in 2006. The total number of piracy incidents globally, which includes attacks and boardings, dropped slightly by 5.5 percent from 306 in the first nine months of 2009 to 289 this year, the bureau said in its quarterly report, Reuters adds.
“Somali pirates are striking further away from well-patroled waters such as the Gulf of Aden to larger adjacent seas,” said Noel Choong, head of the IMB’s piracy reporting centre. Heavily armed Somali pirates equipped with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades were responsible for 35 of the 39 hijackings this year.
The total number of piracy incidents hit a six-year high of 406 last year due to attacks off the Somali coast, where the Gulf of Aden and its adjacent seas links Europe to Asia. A strong foreign naval presence in the Gulf of Aden since the start of 2009 led to a drop in incidents in the area from 100 in January to September last year to 44 this year.
“However, this is a vast area and the navies cannot realistically cover it. The naval presence does however remain vital to the control of piracy in this area,” said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.
The South China Sea was another concern with 21 ships boarded this year, a three-fold increase on last year.