The European Union anti-piracy task force said on Monday it had rescued a South African yachtsman after he was left behind by Somali pirates, although two other crew members were taken onshore as hostages.
South Africa’s High Commissioner to Kenya, Ndumiso Ntshinga, told Reuters he had been in contact with the rescued yachtsman on Monday and confirmed the two captives, a man and a woman, were both South African citizens.
“What we know is the yacht had three crew. The three were South Africans. They took two and the captain of the yacht was rescued by the EU patrol ship,” said Ntshinga.
He said the names of the two hostages were not being released until their next of kin had been contacted, reports Reuters.
Pirates, several residents and al Shabaab rebels who control the southern Somali coastal town of Barawe told Reuters on Sunday that a hostage had been shot dead.
EU Navfor said a French warship had launched a boarding team to investigate the yacht because attempts to contact it had failed and it was sailing suspiciously close to the coast.
The boarding team came under fire from the yacht and a Mayday call made clear the crew were under the control of the pirates, the task force said in a statement.
EU Navfor said when the yacht later ran aground, pirates took two crew members ashore, but the captain refused to leave and was later rescued.
Per Klingvall, spokesman for EU Navfor, said the anti-piracy task force had no information about anyone being killed, and that the rescued yachtsman had not been shot.
Somali pirates typically hijack merchant vessels, take the ships to coastal towns they control and hold them until a ransom is paid. As ransoms are usually in the millions of dollars, the lucrative trade has continued despite foreign naval patrols.
According to the International Maritime Board, ship hijackings hit a five-year high of 39 in the first nine months of the year — 35 of them carried out by Somali pirates.
While the pirates usually focus on larger ships, a few yachts have also been seized.
A British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were taken hostage in October 2009 when their yacht was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean.
In April, a French hostage was killed and four others were freed when French forces attacked a yacht that had been hijacked by Somali pirates.