The South African yacht skipper whose crew were kidnapped by Somali pirates last week was willing to 'go down' with his vessel.
In a blow by blow account of the traumatic hijacking off the Tanzanian coast on October 26, Peter Eldridge, 61, yesterday explained that he was prepared to sink his yacht, SY Choizil, if the pirates made it their 'mother ship' to rob other vessels.
'I had made peace that … if they were going to go ahead with their plan to make it their mother ship, I was prepared to sink with my yacht and the pirates,' he said.
Eldridge refused to leave his yacht when the pirates finally took his crew, Durban couple Bruno Prelizzari and Deborah Calitz, hostage on November 7. Prelizzari and Calitz are still in the hands of their captors.
Eldridge, an experienced yachtsman, had lived on his yacht on the coast of Dar-es- Salaam for several years. 'I decided to sail to Richards Bay in November because it was a good time to sail. I approached Bruno and Debbie to be my crew and they agreed because this would allow them to visit their families back home,' Eldridge said at the Zululand Yacht Club this week.
He said the issue of piracy was fully discussed in Dar-es-Salaam before they set sail in October. 'We believed that in the likely event of being attacked, we would be robbed and then the pirates would leave us,' he said.
On October 26, 160km from the Tanzanian coast, two motorboats pulled up on either side of the yacht. He was quickly able to send out a mayday signal. Twelve pirates, armed with AK47 guns and RPG rockets, boarded the yacht.
'Communication was poor but they demanded the satellite radio and any cellphones we had. They disconnected the fixed radio and removed it.' The three were held at gunpoint while the vessel was searched.
'All the presents that Bruno and Debbie had bought for family back home and their money were found. When they came back we repeatedly told them we didn’t have any money and that we were South African,' he said. The pirates stayed on the yacht while a mother ship carrying drums of fuel delivered food and tea to them.
On November 7, the pirates spotted a French warship on the horizon. 'There were two boats. One was from Amsterdam. Their helicopters were hovering overhead. The pirates then began firing at the warship with their AK47s and launched rockets.'
He was told to contact the French vessel. Eldridge was able to inform them over the radio that there were eight pirates on board. 'Afterwards, the pirates made us sit on the side of the yacht, facing the warship. They had guns to our heads,' he said.
The pirates motored the yacht until the motor seized and it ran aground on the Somali coast. The couple were forced ashore but Eldridge refused to leave. 'One of the pirates came back,' he said. 'He ripped the microphone from the radio and started beating me. I refused to go. I lodged myself so he couldn’t pull me out. He then discharged his weapon. I was uninjured. He then left.'
Eldridge made contact with the warship again and was rescued.
At time of writing, no contact has been established with the kidnapping pirates, and no ransom demand has so far been made.