Kidnapped: Life as a Somali pirate hostage

July 6, 2011

Watch the event here.

By Helena Williams

When Colin Freeman, a Daily Telegraph correspondent, was kidnapped by Somali pirates along with his photographer Jose Cendron, he did not know when he would be free again – if ever.

But during last night’s Frontline Club event, Freeman who is now the chief foreign correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph – said he had signed up for a life of adventure.

 “In a world with an increased sense of safety, it was a chance to toss a lot of that aside. It gave me a sense of adventure.”

His harrowing experience is retold in his new book Kidnapped: Life as a Somali Pirate Hostage.

In 2008 Freeman was sent to Bossaso, Somalia, to investigate a spate of piracy in the Gulf of Aden in the hope that he’d be able to secure exclusive interviews with pirates.

He was adamant that he was never pressured to put his life at risk to bear witness.

“For anyone who thinks foreign correspondents get put under pressure to go to dangerous places – that has never happened in my experience.”

Convinced that pirates craved media attention, he was disappointed to find that when it was time for his trip to finish, it had not been as fruitful as initially anticipated. It was when he and his photographer were on their way to the airport when their bodyguards, hired for protection, kidnapped them at gunpoint.

“I remember thinking that if I got kidnapped I’d shout and scream, because if you do that in public they [the kidnappers] would lose their nerve.

“But if someone points a gun at you, you’ll do whatever they want. Anyone who passed us on the road would have thought we were changing a tyre.”

Taken into the mountainous region outside Bossaso, they endured six weeks of terrifying uncertainty.

“Luckily Jose had the same attitude as me – we both knew to keep calm, take it easy and have a sense of humour.

“The first week was pretty grim. What kept us going was the friendship we had developing at 100 times the rate it normally happens.”

He describes being kidnapped as living “like a soul in a waiting room, waiting for an afterlife.”

“The best thing to do is to think about things that are comforting, and to keep your mind busy. It’s frightening how quickly your brain empties of things to think about.”

It is only after negotiations with the pirates that he and Jose were freed – and as soon as he was a free man, the Telegraph immediately asked him to file a 5000 word story on his experience. He was happy to oblige.

“It’s part of your duty as a journalist, and also good therapy.

“At the end of the day, as a foreign correspondent you are paid to go out there and come back intact – and not get kidnapped. My sense of professional pride was smarting.”

Indeed, he says despite his ordeal there is not a country – other than Somalia, “for a while” – that he wouldn’t want to cover.



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