The South African government does not know who is holding two of its nationals whose yacht was hijacked last week by pirates off Somalia, or where they are being held, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
“At this point in time we do not know where they are. We have instructed our consulate to handle the matter,” foreign ministry spokesperson Malusi Mogale said. Mogale said his office did not know who was holding the couple.
The pair were on their way from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to Richards Bay on South Africa’s north-east coast, according to a spokesperson for the Bluff Yacht Club in Durban where they are members. The European Union’s anti-piracy mission, EU Navfor, said the two crew members were taken ashore by the pirates after their yacht was hijacked in the Indian Ocean, French news agency AFP reported. A third South African, a skipper of the yacht on the which couple was sailing, was rescued from the vessel and has returned home.
In a statement released on Monday, EU Navfor said the yacht had drawn the attention of a French frigate on Saturday because it was “suspiciously close to shore” off the coast of Somalia. When the French warship launched a boarding team to investigate, it came under fire from the yacht.
The EU vessel then received a Mayday call that pirates were on board and that the crew of three were under their control. The French ship continued to monitor the yacht and saw it run aground near the shore early on Sunday.
The skipper had refused to leave the yacht, and the pirates left with the remaining two crew members as hostage, said the mission.
The Sunday Times, meanwhile, reports the families of a yachting couple who were hijacked by pirates and are now being held hostage in southern Somalia have been told to expect a lengthy ordeal. Government officials told it the pirates had by Saturday still not made any demands for the release of Bruno Pelizzari and his girlfriend, Debbie Calitz.
Albie Laubscher, the director of consular services at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, said the families of the Durban couple had been briefed that the hostage drama could be a long, drawn-out affair. He said it was government policy not to pay ransoms. “This is not a matter of days. We must get used to the idea that it can take very, very long,” he said. “(The pirates) hold all the cards in a place like Somalia. You cannot dictate to them. You just have to wait and see.
“There’s nobody around who can intervene, or compel them to act in a certain manner. If we want our people alive, we just need to wait, and see with whom they will make contact.”
At least 31 vessels and 541 hostages are in Somali pirate hands in several locations, according to the latest report by Ecoterra International, a piracy monitoring group.
Meanwhile,South Africa’s government BuaNews agency adds a British couple held captive in Somalia for more than a year were released yesterday by pirates who held them in the centre of the country after attacking their yacht off the Somali coast. The couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, was set free after long negotiations with their captors and were now in the central Somali town of Addado in Galgaduud province, said Abdi Mohamed Helmi “Hangul”, a Somali doctor who treated the couple in captivity and took part in the effort to release them.
“They are fine and are now talking to the local elders and the administration and will soon leave the town for Mogadishu where they will fly to Nairobi,” Hangul said. Addado is under the control of local Himin and Heeb regional autonomy and is a relatively peaceful part of central Somalia.
It was not immediately clear if a ransom had been paid but pirates who held the Chandlers have been demanding hefty ransom for the release of the elderly British couple since their ordeal began almost a year ago.