Thursday 25 April 2019

Fred's dice with pirates

Marine engineer Freddie Parle had to negotiate his own release from the captivity of Somali pirates 11 years ago and recalls his experience with Aine O'Boyle

Freddie Parle pictured in Strandhill soon after his release in March 2008
Freddie Parle pictured in Strandhill soon after his release in March 2008

Eleven years since being captured by Somalian pirates, Sligoman Freddie Parle is in the midst of writing a book about his experiences.

The 79-year-old founder of the Sligo sub-aqua club was released from captivity on the 19th March 2008, following 47 days of captivity.

The Sligo Champion reported at the time how Freddie was one of six hostages on a Danish-owned tugboat being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Freddie was the chief engineer on the 'Svitzer Korsakov' which was hijacked by pirates last as it travelled from St. Petersburg to Sakhalin Island, between north west Japan and Russia.

"We just had to put our hands up and pray to God that they wouldn't shoot us," Parle told The Sligo Champion this week as he reflected on his capture.

According to Parle, the boat they were travelling on was captured in the Indian Ocean and was then made to sail down the Somalian coast and anchored in a place named Eyl.

Once anchored, the pirates demanded a ransom of two and a half million in return for those held captive.

"The company was told two and a half million or else they'd kill everybody and drive the ship ashore," said Parle.

"Ultimately, we realised of course that you don't shoot the hen that lays the golden eggs," he added.

For 47 days there were negotiations going back and forth between the ship which was anchored about half a mile off-shore and the company that the crew had originally been working for, in Copenhagen.

The company had chartered the tug to service offshore oil platforms.

According to Parle, the pirates were not very adept and he had a feeling that this was the first ship they had ever captured.

Nearby, another ship had arrived to stand by the captured crew.

This ship contacted the pirates and told them if anyone tried to bring food out to feed the pirates on board, they would be in trouble.

"We could see the shells skipping off the waves" said Parle.

The pirates communicated with the captives via an interpreter with a severe case of jaundice.

"He was pure yellow, and his eyes were all white… he was a really sick man," said Parle.

Within a week the interpreter had fallen down on his job and was being replaced by a schoolteacher of whom was told that once the job was finished he would receive $10,000.

"He had to learn how to become a pirate," said Parle.

Meanwhile, back home in Sligo, Parle's wife, Deirdre and four sons anxiously awaited his return.

What was only meant to be a three- or four-week trip had turned into two months.

"My son Derek more or less said, nothing will be said to anybody about this," said Parle.

"He kind of took over as the family head," he added.

According to Parle, Derek was in touch on a daily basis with Copenhagen where they had a professional team who specialised in the handling of piracies.

"They knew what to do, they knew the psychology to employ and they knew how to talk to the pirates," said Parle.

It was dragging on for so long a conclusion seemed a long way off, if ever.

"It even got to a stage, about halfway through our time there, that guy who was the main man in Copenhagen, Mr Brown, said that he wouldn't be talking to the pirates tomorrow, as he was going on holidays," said Parle.

"Can you imagine us in a life or death situation being told, oh, the guy that we're negotiating with is going on holidays, you can't be serious!" he added.

Each day a call was placed to the company in Copenhagen and the interpreter would have the phone.

"He wouldn't allow anyone to touch the phone, they were terribly scared that we would jump them," said Parle.

According to Parle, in the end he was the one who negotiated the money.

"I was fed up waiting and they were so inept" he said.

"What do you say to a pirate? Excuse me could you give me the information on your bank account?

They don't have bank accounts, so how are you gonna pay them?" said Parle.

"There were hundreds and hundreds of these piracies going on at the time, lots and lots of money changing hands," said Parle.

According to Parle, when you are dealing with these pirates every day, "you get very blasé about them".

"The fact that there's a Kalashnikov stuck in your face all the time, you get so used to it," he said.

In the end, the final ransom payment for the captives was $700,000.

"A lot far away from two and a half million," said Parle.

When the pirates were leaving "they took everything they could get their hands on, they took our air compressor... anything that wasn't nailed down they took, and they disappeared."

According to Parle, he is currently in the process of putting together an autobiography in which he will discuss his experiences of being captured on the boat.

Eleven years on, he still remembers all the details clear as day.

Sligo Champion