SA pair near Mogadishu – ‘whisperer’
Mwangura ‘often the first to know’
THE MAN dubbed the “pirate whisperer” says South Africans Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz, who were taken hostage by Somali pirates more than a month ago, have been moved close to the capital city of Mogadishu.
Hostage negotiator Andrew Mwangura moves in the shadowy world of intelligence in Kenya and is known to be often the first person to hear about a hostage-taking or a pirate attack on a vessel.
Mwangura told Independent Newspapers this week that as far as he could tell, Pelizzari and Calitz had not been harmed.
The couple were aboard South African yacht Choizil with skipper Peter Eldridge when it was attacked by 12 pirates who took control of the yacht just off the border of Mozambique and Tanzania on October 26. For 10 days the pirates kept the three locked up on the vessel, until a Dutch naval vessel gave chase.
The Choizil was run aground and the pirates fled under fire from the Dutch, taking Pelizzari and Calitz with them – leaving behind Eldridge who refused to leave his yacht. He was rescued by the Dutch and is back in Richards Bay.
Mwangura said that after Pelizzari and Calitz were taken hostage there was an argument between the pirates and a group of gunmen in the village over “sharing the loot” from ransom money, and this had delayed negotiations.
“The SA hostages are at present being held captive near Mogadishu. They were shifted from Koyema Island to Mogadishu following a misunderstanding between their captors and local gunmen said to be linked to an Islamic movement in Southern Somalia.
“Our latest infor mation indicates that talks among local elders and the gunmen are going smoothly,” said Mwangura, adding: “This often happens and they will sit down and say ‘let’s talk about this’ and find an amicable solution.
“Hopefully they will come to some sort of agreement in the next few days,” he said.
Mwangura heads a nonprofit organisation in Mombasa, Kenya, the Seafarers Association Programme. He describes it as dedicated to helping seafarers in trouble.
Mwangura emphasised that he did not receive any cut of any ransom deal with pirates.
He operates from internet cafes and frequently moves his family up and down the Kenyan coast due to fears for his safety, as he also writes on a freelance basis for under- ground newspapers.
Cyrus Mody, who runs the London-based Maritime Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce, describes Mwangura as having the best first-hand intelligence when it comes to any vessel in distress off the African coast, whether under pirate attack or simply running low on food.
Mwangura confir med he sometimes got infor mation about a pirate attack “within seconds” of it happening.
He dismissed talk of Somalian warlords and haggard hostages held in caves along the wild Somali coastline as colourful notions, saying “it is all about a country torn by civil war and business people ready to finance pirates and make money”.
He added: “There are so many people from so many countries who are now involved in gun running. People are making a killing in the gun business.”
He said ar ms dealing in Somalia had “increased dramatically” in the past nine months, with “the supply of weapons and ammunition having been key in atrocities amounting to war crimes against humanity”.
South African crisis management consultant Mark Courtney from Clayton Consultants said that during the Cold War Africa was flooded with weaponry from both sides of the political spectrum – and more so from the East.
“Many of these weapons are still here on the continent and in some countries in the East, and as these countries have little or no ‘oversight’, they don’t have any limits of morality imposed on their weapons industries. ”
Meanwhile the families of Pellizari and Calitz remain anxious but are determined to remain upbeat.
Deborah’s daughter Kerry Calitz said her biggest worry was her mother’s asthma.
“We have not heard anything at all and it’s so worrying just not knowing. But I’m positive that the people who have my mom and Bruno will soon realise they are the best people they have ever met.”
Pellizari’s sister Vera said it was only the second hostagetaking incident of “yachties”.
“The Somali pirates normally target ships. I really do believe our gover nment is doing the best it can to get Bruno and Debbie back. We are just working South Africans. We do not have US dollars or British pounds and our families are not wealthy.”
Spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Clayson Monyela, said the pirates made contact with neither the SA government nor the hostages’ families.
SAFE? Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari are unlikely to have been harmed, Mwangura believes.
IN THE KNOW: The ‘Pirate Whisperer’, Andrew Mwangura.