Three Months in the Hands of Somali Pirates

The Rheinland-Pfalz, a German Navy frigate that had been on its way to Mombasa, changed course toward the "Hansa Stavanger." The frigate had crew of 200 and was equipped with cannons and helicopters. As it came into sight, the pirates held a Kalashnikov to the captain's head. "Turn around, otherwise they'll kill me," he radioed. The German military vessel withdrew. In the afternoon, the captain reported his ship's capture to the company in Hamburg. The pirates demanded a $15 million (€10.5 million) ransom.

The Hansa Stavanger anchored in Harardhere Bay along the Somali coast. The deck including the captain's cabin was completely burnt out and the other cabins had been looted. "The pirates are stoned, but friendly," the captain wrote his wife. "Don't worry, we're waiting for the ransom."

A week went by without contact from the owner of the shipping company. Each time a warship approached the pirates' stronghold, panic broke out. "There's no clear command structure among the pirates," the captain wrote on April 11. "Everyone opens fire when they want to." And, he reported, he still hadn't heard anything from the company in Hamburg. His e-mail included wishes for a "Happy Easter."

"Another day full of terror and fear," the captain wrote the next morning. The crew slept on the bridge guarded by the pirates, who carried machine guns. Their captors had carried blankets and mattresses onto the deck and took turns sleeping in the open air.

On April 12, eight days after the attack, the captain heard from the shipping company for the first time. The crew should under no circumstances negotiate, they said, but leave everything to the company, whose negotiator would be available from 10 a.m. to noon each day, Somali time. His name was Peter Shaw, from the Amor Group in Great Britain. He offered $600,000, and the haggling began.

The man who spoke for the pirates called himself Faisal. He now demanded $6 million instead of $15 million, and threatened to destroy the ship. His last offer, Faisal said. The threats were part of the ritual.

Stench of Excrement, Shortage of Food and Water

The captain and chief officer weren't allowed to leave the bridge. They couldn't wash themselves, and their shirts and trousers were now being worn by the pirates, who chewed the drug khat and smirked. Whenever new men came onboard, things got uncomfortable. They searched the ship for booty and became furious when they didn't find any. "We're still hanging on, but we don't know how much longer we can," the captain wrote on April 15.

The entire ship stank of excrement und urine, the food was rationed, and the water ran out. When anchored, the ship can produce only non-drinking water, which is usually used to flush the toilets and wash laundry. Now it had to serve as drinking water, and it wasn't enough. There were nearly 60 people on board, requiring double what the ship was capable of producing. April 20 was a day the captain didn't expect to survive. The negotiations had stalled and the pirates were impatient. "They gathered us all on the bridge. They said they would shoot us one after another… They taped my eyes shut and dragged me on deck… They shouted and shot right by my head… I was half unconscious as they dragged me back to the bridge and threw me on the floor."

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