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Released hostage sailors' regrets - first interview

by Nancy Knudsen on 28 Oct 2011
Johansen family and crew, before their kidnap by pirates .. .
A Danish family who were held hostage by Somali pirates for more than six months said in an interview they gave to a Danish newspaper this week that they decided to sail alone through the dangerous waters off the Horn of Africa, hoping to sneak through safely.

The parents, Jan Quist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie, their teenagers, Rune, Hjalte and Naja and two other crew were kidnapped on Feb. 24 after their yacht ING was seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.

Jan Quist Johansen added that he wished they had never sailed into the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa. 'It was the decision of my life that I regret the most,' he said in the first interview since the family's release.

In the beginning the kidnappers demanded $5 million for the release of the family. After being seized the captives were taken to the village of Hul-Anod in the self-proclaimed autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast of Somalia.

Government troops tried unsuccessfully to free them on March 10, and they were taken back to their yacht and then transferred to the pirates' mother ship, a Greek vessel captured earlier.

They were then anchored at Gumbah, Bari, in the Baargal region where it was apparently easier to avoid government forces.

The family had left Denmark in August 2009 to sail round the world, planning to return at the end of this year. Two companions accompanied them.

They had made the decision to sail through the pirate zone alone and not in a convoy with other yachts, hoping the vastness of the sea would help protect them.

The Danes traveled without lights and any electronic equipment that would make them visible. They kept radio silence and also deliberately gave wrong information about their position on the Internet.

In the interview they explained why they chose to 'go it alone': 'A convoy is a smorgasbord for the pirates. They are both fearless and have no scruples,' his wife, Marie Quist Johansen, was quoted by the Politiken Daily, to whom they gave the interview, as saying. 'They can start shooting at the first (boat) to show that they are serious, and take all they can handle.'

But seven days after leaving the Maldives for Oman, a fishing boat with five pirates armed with AK-47 assault rifles abruptly ended their idyllic round-the-world journey.

The family immediately sent out an SOS that it was under attack, hid its GPS and threw an emergency position-indicating radio beacon into the ocean. The family's emergency calls were heard, but too late, its members said.

Marie told the newspaper they 'cried and were afraid many times' but their Somali captors never hit them. They also were able to stay together during the ordeal that ended on Sept. 6.

'They are only interested in money and if they don't get it fast enough, something bad would have happened to us,' the Jan told Politiken.

Danish officials have refused to comment on whether a ransom was paid, and the family didn't tell Politiken if any money were involved in their release.

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