SA pair near Mo­gadishu – ‘whis­perer’

Mwan­gura ‘of­ten the first to know’

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - TANYA WATER­WORTH

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.

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