• Germany's news in English

Formerly kidnapped German 'mad' for returning to Somalia

AFP · 18 May 2009, 07:56

Published: 18 May 2009 07:56 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The residents of Berbera, a Somali port in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, call 62-year-old Jurgen Kantner "the mad German sailor."

On June 23 last year, Kantner and his wife Sabine Merz were steering their modest sailing yacht through Somali waters when armed pirates captured them and brought them ashore to a mountain hideout.

After being subjected to deprivations and mock executions during their 52-day hostage ordeal, the pair are back in what is considered one of the most dangerous countries on the planet to reclaim their ship, the Rockall.

"My boat is my life and I don't want to lose her, nothing more. I don't care about pirates and governments," Kantner said while taking a break from his repair work in Berbera, the main port in Somaliland.

The Rockall's hijacking was a rare case of a ship being captured by pirates in the waters of Somaliland, a northern breakaway state which has generally been more stable and prosperous than the rest of Somalia.

But the stretch of land facing the location of the hijacking is disputed by Puntland, a neighbouring breakaway region which is home to most of the pirates groups that are preying on the world's merchant fleets.

European tourists are few and far between in the troubled region and the couple, who live on their boat in the harbour, are perceived as odd birds by the local population.

"They think that I'm insane, they call me the crazy white guy or the mad German sailor but they don't know how important my boat is to me," he said.

Sipping sweet white tea with his wife and a German-speaking Somali friend at a cafe near the harbour, Kantner appears in no danger of suffering from the Stockholm syndrome.

"It was my worst experience ever. It was really painful and they were intimidating us the whole time," said the burly German, sporting a wild head of thick white hair. "One day I said to them I hoped a plane would bomb us all to bits, so that we all die together," he said.

The couple was released in August 2008. A ransom of $600,000 is believed to have been paid but Kantner declined to elaborate on the circumstances of his release.

Concerned with nothing in this world but his wife and the sea, Kantner admits to being of slightly bearish disposition and has few kind words for the "clumsy local mechanics" or "the German officials who resent my presence here."

"I have no friends back home because I lost contact in 32 years living on my boat. Why should I go back to Germany where I have nobody to help me?" he asked. "This is my life and it's wonderful. I have all my things on my boat and I travel to many places in the world. Sailing is how I want to live and die," he said, removing his reading glasses to gaze at the sea.

When asked if his end might not come sooner than expected if he tries to sail through the Gulf of Aden again, he admitted he needed to devise a strategy to dodge the region's fast-breeding ransom-hunters.

"I will start sailing soon after I finish mending the boat," he said, clambering over small fishing nets and oily engine parts littering the deck of the Rockall, anchored between two Somaliland navy ships. "I know it's dangerous sailing off into Somali waters and I have no private security guarding me but I pray to God that pirates won't get me again. It's a little bit like suicide," Kantner said coldly.

"Of course, buying a gun is an option but I haven't decided yet."

Story continues below…

The German was critical of the international navies' approach to dealing with Somali pirates: "If you catch one, chop his hand off. If he tries to escape, shoot to kill. Sharia (Islamic law) is a punishment they understand.

Somalia's marauding buccaneers have captured some 50 ships since Kantner's first mishap, most of them merchant vessels.

A French family on a world sailing tour was also snatched earlier this year and the father accidentally shot dead by French commandos meant to rescue them.

For obvious reasons, Kantner refused to reveal anything about how he intends to sail safely out of the ever-widening zone affected by Somali piracy and reach his next destination: Malaysia.

"If I get there safely, me and my wife will take a week-long holiday, just resting. And I really hope the pirates don't catch me because this time no-one will pay and everybody will tell the pirates: 'Keep him'."

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Munich to get 'nice toilets' to serve cross-legged locals
Photo: DPA

The Bavarian capital has a pee problem - the city only has one public toilet for every 13,000 inhabitants. But a new plan could rescue desperate locals, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reports.

German kids get glowing report for their English skills
Photo: DPA.

As if multilingual Germans don't already put many English-speakers to shame, now the younger generation is improving their English skills even more.

Berlin museum controversially recreates Hitler bunker
The reconstruction of the Hitler bunker. Photo: DPA

Sensationalized or compelling history? Berlin museums clash over new Nazi bunker exhibit

Germans think they're fit, but they're really couch potatoes
Photo: DPA.

There's been an increase in the number of Germans who define themselves as "fit", but their lifestyle choices don't quite match this self-perception.

10 fascinating facts you never knew about German beer
Tennis coach Boris Becker and his wife Lilly at Oktoberfest 2016 in Munich. Photo: DPA

From malt and monks to Radlers and rivalries, the story of German beer is as rich and wonderful as its selection.

Intensive farming 'endangers a third of German species'
Photo: DPA

There are 32,000 species of animal, plant and mushroom life native to Germany. Due to intensive farming methods, one in every three of these is endangered, a new report shows.

German hospital uses therapy to 'treat' paedophiles
A poster from the campaigne "Don't offend", which offers therapy to paedophiles. The sign reads "Do you love kids more than you'd prefer? There's help." Photo: DB Scholz & Friends / DPA.

A unique German initiative is offering therapy to paedophiles to control their urges, with the aim of getting them help before they offend.

Minister: 'no tolerance' for clowns after chainsaw attack
Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has called for a zero-tolerance approach to 'killer clowns' after a series of attacks culminating in two teenagers being chased by a clown wielding a chainsaw.

Baby who was auctioned on eBay taken away from father
Photo: DPA.

A German court ruled on Thursday that a man who put his one-month-old baby up for sale on the online auction platform eBay should only be allowed contact with the child under supervision.

Portugal's ruling party calls German minister 'pyromaniac'
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Photo: DPA.

The head of Portugal's ruling Socialists called German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble a "pyromaniac" on Thursday after he criticized Lisbon for reversing course on austerity.

10 German clichés that foreigners get very wrong
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd