The following account is extracted from Richard Middleton’s Chatham House report: Piracy In Somalia.
Captain Darch was the skipper of the Svitzer Korsakov when it was boarded by pirates on 1 February 2008. He and his five crew mates were held for 47 days, until 18 March.
At about 3pm on Friday 1 February, seventy miles north of Cape Gwardafuy, I was alerted by a shout. On our starboard side were five pirates in a six-metre white plastic boat powered by 48hp Yamaha engines. I thrashed the tug to the left, then right, forcing them to sheer away. This cat and mouse game continued until another boat with four more approached. I knew we couldn’t avoid them so
I stopped our engine. The pirates next attempted to winch their boats to ours but only succeeded in dumping their spare ammunition into the sea. Later the first onto to the bridge said; ‘I am Andrew and speak English. This is Omar, our Captain. Do as you are told.’
On the orders of ‘Capt. Omar’ we moved south. By late Sunday we arrived in Eyl where15 more pirates boarded our ship. From then on around twenty were always aboard, including their personal Mullah. I convinced Omar to let us go north to Gabbac, a more sheltered spot. One pirate called Ahmed told us he had been in the coastguard, and only Ahmed and one or two others who had also been coastguards understood our engines. From then on we were trailed by a US warship and smaller Somali boats resupplied us.
The pirates, armed with AK47s, spent every day chewing khat. We survived on cigarettes, water, goat, camel’s milk and chapattis. Our relationship with the pirates was mostly amicable except for one incident. Omar kept saying ‘go on – go on’ but the anchorage wasn’t safe. He hit me across the back of my head. I said we wouldn’t go anywhere if he hit me again and he didn’t.
Later another man called Omar joined us. He said he was there to make sure we were looked after. During the ordeal, I lost weight but was never really hungry. Genuinely, I think they just needed the money.
Ten days after our capture the Chief Engineer – Fred – and I hatched a plan. I tried to get a coded message to the Americans via Copenhagen. At midnight on the 11th we blacked out the ship and blockaded ourselves into the ballast tank. We listened for the attack, but all we could hear was the Somalis trying to get at us. At five in the afternoon we tried to give ourselves up but they had bolted us in. We thumped on the door and they let us out at seven. After this we lost all our privileges and they followed us everywhere. Sometimes, as time dragged on, the younger pirates suggested killing the Russians and sinking the boat. They thought Fred and I were more valuable.
Every day we talked about the ransom. Initially they asked for $2.5 million but Fred convinced them the company would never give that much. During the negotiations one time the new interpreter (Geli), a schoolteacher, said: ‘Look, here this is your last chance –give us the money in three days or the crew will be shot, you can put that in your pipe and smoke it.’ The negotiations were handled
by Control Risks who have experience at that. They later tried $900,000 but eventually settled for $678,000. The money was assembled as cash in Dubai where they hoped a Somali businessman would handle the delivery for them, but no one would. In the end the money came on a boat. It came alongside with the crew hidden. Our pirates went over and moved the money across. Now the pirates had the boat, the crew and the money! All night the pirates divided the money between themselves. Most left in the morning but Omar and the schoolteacher said it wasn’t safe for them to go ashore here, so we dropped them further north.
Next day we met up with the warship. I asked why they didn’t attack; one guy said they hadn’t received the message; another said: ‘Even if we had received it we’d need an order from higher up to do anything.’ We were held for 47 days. We went from Oman to Dubai, where we met our wives.