Piracy: From captivity in Somalia to freedom in Seychelles
Three years ago, they met in dire circumstances, in the middle of nowhere, and out of their ordeal came a friendship they say will bind them for life. Three former hostages held by Somali pirates met in Seychelles this week, three years after they last saw each other.
America’s Michael Scott Moore was held between January 2012 and September 2014, while Seychelles’ Rolly Tambara and Marc Songoire were captured and detained for 367 days from 30 October 2011 until their arrival home in Seychelles on 5 November 2012. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of their return.
Between January 2012 and September 2012, the trio was detained together in various locations across two Somalian cities, Galkacyo and Hobyo.
TODAY met with Michael and Rolly in Beau Vallon on Wednesday afternoon. Marc Songoire was not present as we learned he was busy getting ready for another fishing trip set for Thursday. Michael and Rolly were accompanied by another former hostage, Francis Roucou, who along with six other men onboard the Indian Ocean Explorer, was held hostage for 88 days in March 2009.
It was in the deep bushes of Galkacyo, a city in central Somalia, that Michael, Rolly and Marc had their first encounter. Michael Moore, an American journalist based in Germany, had been captured by Somali pirates five hours earlier. He was on his way back to the hotel after dropping off his colleague, Indian-born independent filmmaker Ashwin Raman, at the Mogadishu airport. In fact the trip which would forever change his life had started ten days earlier.
Michael had travelled to Somalia to learn more about the country which was home to so many pirates who sailed the high seas of the Indian Ocean in search of fishing and cargo vessels, taking the crew hostage and demanding exorbitant ransoms for their release. Such was the scale of the piracy it became a huge problem for many governments by 2005 because ships transporting their cargoes through the pirate-infested waters were constantly being attacked and hijacked.
His interest in the topic arose following the trial of a pirate gang jailed in Hamburg, Germany after they had attempted two years earlier to hijack the MV Taipan, a German cargo ship, near Somalia. “The story was intriguing as it was the first case of piracy for Germany in 400 years and I thought the case would make for a good book”.
Michael sought the help of his colleague Ashwin, who had a lot of experience in war zones, as well as that of a Somali elder living in Germany and originally from the city of Galkacyo. Their working trip was supposed to last 10 days. However Ashwin, who was working on a different project, wanted to return to Germany earlier than planned as he had already completed his work. Michael saw him off at the Mogadishu airport, accompanied by two armed security personnel.
It was on their way back, between the airport and his hotel, a place considered as a no man’s land, that his car was ambushed.
Outnumbered, they were overpowered by some 15 men armed to the hilt, who pulled him out of the car. “I tried to keep the door shut but they hit my wrist with their guns until my wrist broke, and I was hit on the head, and dragged out of my car and into theirs where we drove for some five hours”. “I remember being so angry, as it was such a bumpy ride and I bounced around in the Land Rover and hit my already bleeding head”. It was the beginning of a nightmare, one that would last for two and a half years.
Bleeding, with a broken wrist, his clothes torn, he was thrown among 30 other hostages, two of whom were Seychellois, Rolly Tambara and Marc Songoire, captured on October 30, 2011 while on a fishing trip. Michael was the only one out of the 30 prisoners who was not a fisherman.
They were held overnight in the bushes in Galkacyo and the next day all moved to another city called, Hobyo. Terrified, shocked and depressed, Michael said he tried to strike up a conversation with the other hostages. “I noticed that Rolly could speak some English and we hit it off in the first five days we were held together”. Although the hostages were not allowed to speak to each other, Rolly, Marc and Michael tried to make the most of their time when the pirates’ backs were turned. It was during those first few days that stories where exchanged and a relationship formed that would help see them get through eight months of hardships together. It was during this time on land together that Michael said he experienced one of the worst days of his life. “The pirates told me I was going to be sold to Al-Shabab”, he recalled. Al Shabaab is al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia and operates primarily out of the country’s southern and central regions. The group is fighting an insurgency against the internationally recognised Somali Federal Government, which is based in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.
“They dragged me into a car and kept me there for a few minutes, and then the pirates made me watch while they took Rolly, hung him from a tree upside down, and started beating him with a cane”.
“This went on for a while and the purpose was to force him to confess he was an Israeli. An awful predicament for any prisoner”, explained Michael. “When they finally put him down, they told me I should counsel him and get him to admit he was Israeli”.
“He came to me and asked, ‘Rolly do you need some water’”, recalls Rolly, laughing. An unfortunate incident that the two men said further cemented their friendship and made them stronger, although despair crept in every now and then. “I once told the pirates to shoot me as I had no money”, said Rolly.
For Michael the desperation led him to contemplate suicide, “I once thought about picking a gun which was left unattended and to kill as many Somalis as I could and then take my own life”, he said.
“We were eventually moved to a fishing boat and although the condition was still awful, there was a slight improvement in our food”, recalled both men as they talked about their daily diet of boiled goat, rice and fish. Michael said it was in the autumn of 2012, eight months after his capture, that he was removed from the boat and taken ashore. That was in September 2012, the last time he saw Rolly and Marc. In fact, two months later, on November 5 2012, Rolly and Marc landed in Seychelles, after spending 367 days in captivity.
Michael’s ordeal continued for another two years. He was constantly moved from house to house in Galkacyo. When asked whether he was being tortured at this point, Michael, who was clearly emotional, said “I was not tortured but I was treated like cattle”. It was during that period that the food worsened, “I was fed potatoes and beans for that entire time to the point that my doctor later confirmed I had severe protein deficiency”. Michael was also constantly asked to make videos, pleading to his family to pay the $20 million ransom.
His freedom came when he least expected it, and at a point when he said he had already given up hope. “It was a complete surprise, one day all of a sudden they told me I was going to be freed”. Michael said he thought it was another lie because he had heard this countless times during his captivity. “But I was handed over twice to two different groups of people, and was driven to a makeshift airport where I met a pilot who flew me from Galkacyo to Mogadishu. The first thing he said when we were in midair was that he had met two Seychellois friends of mine, Rolly and Marc”, recalled Michael saying it was the first time he had heard their names in two years and how relieved he was to hear they had made it out.
Unbeknown to him, his family with the support of various international groups had managed to raise $1.6 million; less than the pirates’ demands but it proved enough to set him free on September 23 2014.
To note, although quite relaxed and happy in the company of his good friend Rolly, Michael was reluctant to talk about certain aspects of his captivity, which he said was “still too painful to put into words, but will be coming out in my book which I hope to release in a couple of years”.
(Left to Right) Captain Francis Roucou, Rolly Tambara and Michael Scott Moore.
Michael who arrived in Seychelles last Sunday is making the most of his week-long stay by going sightseeing, surfing, which is one of his passions, as well as catching up with Rolly and Marc. “I promised him that one day we would have a beer under my mango tree at Belvedere and I am happy that we have managed to do just that on Sunday”, said Rolly with a big smile. “Although we had Skyped a number of times since his release, it was a complete surprise to see him on my doorstep on Sunday”, said Rolly, whose daughter had organised the whole visit without his knowledge. “It was an extremely pleasant surprise for both Marc and I”, he concluded.
For his part, Francis Roucou, said it was great to finally meet the famous Michael, whom Rolly and Marc mentioned a lot during the negotiation stage and upon their return. Mr Roucou, a former hostage himself, was part of the special negotiating team set up by the government to secure the men’s release. He said he has offered Michael a copy of his book “88 days”, a detailed account of his crew’s captivity in 2009.
About Michael Scott Moore
He is a journalist working for an English website “Speigel Online International”, a branch of the Der Speigel, a weekly German news magazine. He is also the author of two books, “Too Much of Nothing” and “Sweetness and Blood”. He is presently working on a book about his captivity in Somalia which he hopes to release in a few years time.
Source: Today.sc 11-6-15