Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
Coping with Capture: Hostage Handbook on Somali Pirates
In the first foreword of this book, Captain Andrey Nozhkin writes, “Nobody is immune to misfortune.” He knows whereof he speaks, for he spent sixty-eight days in captivity after Somali pirates seized the CEC Future on 7 November 2008. For ships traveling in the waters between the east coast of Africa and the Middle East, piracy has become such a threat that the question isn’t if they will be attacked, but when. A number of books have been published in recent years on Somali pirates, but none of them address what seafarers need to know should they face such an attack and find themselves hostages of the pirates. Coping with Capture fills that void.
The opening paragraph of the Introduction explains the purpose of this book.
The aim of this handbook is to better prepare seafarers for encounters with Somali pirates and to assist them through a hostage situation with as little mental and physical injury as possible.
While no handbook can guarantee total protection, this volume provides hands-on, real-life techniques for seafarers to endure and survive captivity and helpful guidelines for their families to cope with their loved ones’ internment at the hands of Somali pirates. In 2009, a hostage spent an average of fifty-five days in captivity while the pirates negotiated with the shipping company. A year later, that time had doubled, and in 2011 seamen often found themselves captive for five months. But these are averages; the Chandlers spent 388 days as hostages, and the crew of MV Iceberg, which was taken in March 2010, remains hostages as of February 2012.
The book opens with a succinct overview of these criminals, who range in age from twelve to forty, and how the hierarchy in which they operate works. Also covered are how attacks unfold, who’s who among the pirates, the initial period of captivity, and life for a hostage on the ship and on land. Even if a vessel has a citadel or a safe room for the crew to withdraw to in the case of a successful attack, the authors point out the pros and cons of having these sanctuaries. Other topics include what to do in case of illness or injury, how to survive mentally and physically, which pirates to interact with and how to interact with them, and which pirates to avoid. Cultural awareness and naval intervention are considered as well.
Another key component of Coping with Capture concerns the negotiation process and why it’s important to follow certain procedures. Torture is also discussed, both from the aspect of its use on hostages and how these seafarers can cope with and counter the use of terror. The final sections of the book address Ransom and Release, and The Family. The appendices are equally important, for they provide visual and descriptive information on pirate vessels and their weaponry, websites to visit for additional information on pirates, protection against attack, and organizations involved in shipping and security, as well as five pages of vocabulary, in English and Somali, to help readers learn to communicate. The book's companion website includes audio files that visitors can download to practice pronouncing the Somali words, which are divided into useful categories: boarding, transit, the ship and her crew, basic words, basic needs, medical conditions and treatment, food and drink, and words to ease interactive communications.
It is evident from reading Coping with Capture that a lot of research and thought went into the writing of this handbook. The team of authors includes military linguists, instructors in hostage survival and counter-piracy, a cultural expert from Somalia, a military crisis psychologist, and members of Naval Special Forces.
The price of the book may give some people pause, but the wealth of hands-on information with generous inclusion of color photographs to reinforce the text, and the inclusion of highlighted boxes of key points and guidelines to follow, make Coping with Capture a valuable resource for any seafarer – commercial or private – who is considering venturing into the dangerous waters in the region around the Horn of Africa. Some of the suggestions will prove valuable in any situation, even though the focus is on Somali pirates. But Coping with Capture should also be essential reading for seafaring families so they better understand what their loved ones face and why time plays a crucial role in securing their release. This handbook is an excellent resource for those seeking more information on how Somali pirates operate and what hostages face.
(Photos, reconstruction: Citadel Solution)
Armed pirates entering the bridge and taking control of the vessel. The initial time until the pirates have gained control with the crew is the most dangerous, as the pirates are highly stressed and prone to very aggressive behavior. They fear interference from the naval forces and crewmembers fighting back or resisting the takeover. The pirates enter the bridge, from the bridge wing. They have climbed the outside stairs to the bridge, and enter shouting and aiming their weapons at the personnel inside. They sometimes fire their AK-47’s through the door before entering to make sure the crewmen inside are subdued and ready to surrender. Quite a few vessel captains have been apprehended on the bridge, intent on outmaneuvering the attackers, and not having evacuated to the safe room in time. Other crewmen report leaving the bridge as the pirates are entering from the bridge wing. Running down the stair to the safe room with the pirates on their heels and having to push against the safe room door to close it, with the pirates pushing from the other side.
Hostage guarded by two pirates from the holding team. There will often be pirates present in the cabin where the crewmembers are confined. The crew are forbidden to leave the room unescorted not even to use the toilet. The guards chew khat and are in general a nuisance to the confined crew. They can be very noisy, talking or arguing loudly or playing music on their radios all through the night, making rest or sleep very difficult for the crew. Their main interest in the crewmembers concern the crews’ personal items and knowledge about possible hidden valuables. They will often loot the rooms on the ship, in their search for things to take ashore and sell at the local market for a small profit. Stealing may be frowned upon by the holding team leader, so the lower ranking guards may try to hide the stolen items from their leader. They often adopt a strategy of asking the hostage to give a personal item as a gift or pressure him into exchanging an item, like his watch, for an old and broken one. They use their mobile phones constantly, even to speak to other guards on-board the ship and often take a particular interest in pornographic material present onboard. The nearly constant presence of the guards is a strain on the confined crew.
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
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