Kidnapped: Life as a Hostage on Somalia's Pirate Coast

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


Kidnapped: Life as a Hostage on Somalia's Pirate Coast
by Colin Freeman
Monday Books

On the first night that Colin Freeman and Spanish photographer Jose Cendon are kidnapped by gunmen stoned to the eyeballs on khat, the amphetamine-like local fix, Freeman tells his colleague that he will not be going back to anywhere like Somalia again.

Being seized by unpredictable men armed with AK-47s is 'a reminder not to push things too far', The Sunday Telegraph's chief foreign correspondent says.

Apparently he has reneged on that resolution by continuing to report from far-flung locations. And that could be a good thing if he follows up with another book. And if he's completely incorrigible, he might make it into a trilogy.

In late 2008, Freeman travelled to arguably the most dangerous part of the world to track down and interview some of the pirates who were making a pretty good living out of hijacking ships off the coast and holding their crews to ransom.

It's a lucrative pastime that continues to this day and has been blamed on rival warlords, militant Islamists, the failure of international efforts to bring peace to the region and good, old-fashioned opportunism.

Freeman is an experienced journalist. It crosses his mind that if pirates are willing to risk little boats and armed crew members to seize an oil tanker, then a pair of unarmed journalists must seem awfully tempting.

And so it turns out. Heading for the airport and a flight out of Somalia, the truck carrying Freeman and Cendon is pulled over by another vehicle carrying leering, armed men.

It's then that it becomes immediately apparent that the minders who had been hired to act as their protectors were in on the plan. And while this book was written after the 40-day ordeal was over, Freeman's humour in adversity shines through.

'I was aware, though, of a feeling of detachment, a disbelief that it could actually be me, yes, me, that this was happening to, that of all the world's six billion people, I had scooped one of the jackpots in that day's global lottery of bad luck,' he writes.

'The fear was there, but it felt strangely numbed, as if my brain had self-prescribed some strong natural Valium. Somewhere inside me though, a muffled voice was repeating the same emergency announcement, over and over again: 'Oh my God. We have been kidnapped. This is bad. This is very, very bad'.'

The book goes on to detail the duo's forced march to a cave high in the hills above the coast, which is inevitably dubbed the Bossaso Hilton, and the fear of being handed over to Islamist extremists who want to execute them.

Throughout it all, Freeman retains a self-effacing humour and wit that must have made the long days of incarceration easier to endure.

The book has laugh-out-loud moments coupled with low points when he muses on family and friends back at home. But overall, if I were to be kidnapped and held in a scorpion-infested cave by stoned Somali buccaneers, I'd want Freeman alongside me.