Homeward unbound


Try as they might, TV shows such as "Survivor" and "Fear Factor" have nothing on the real-life dangers and pitfalls of the world, as staffers of one of outdoor television's most popular programs discovered this spring.

In late March, the crew of the ship that transported Jose Wejebe, host of ESPN2's "Spanish Fly," and his film team to the Seychelles Islands off the east African coast were waylaid and taken hostage by Somali pirates.

The drama ended Tuesday when the ship's crew was released after nearly $500,000 in ransom was paid to the kidnappers. The freed men apparently were in good health and had been treated reasonably well during their time in captivity.

Wejebe, whose fishing expedition to the Seychelles was showcased in a highly rated four-part series this year, was transported to the atolls aboard the Indian Ocean Explorer, the target of the Somali pirates in March. All of the men who were held are natives of the Seychelles, a former British colony north of Madagascar and south of the Horn of Africa.

"The first thing I thought when I heard about the hijacking was 'Whew! All of us could have been in on that deal.' Then I felt a great concern for the crew," Wejebe said. "We broke bread with those guys and talked a lot about different things with them like boating, fishing and navigation.

"We got to be friends, and you worry about your friends when they get in trouble. I'm glad it worked out. Man, it could have gone a lot worse. Those Somali pirates are jacked up on khat most of the time and you never know which way they're going to go. When authorities killed some of them in April after they kidnapped that guy off the Maersk Alabama, I really got concerned for our friends."

Though the hijacking of the Indian Ocean Explorer occurred several miles from where Wejebe and his party fished and filmed, it was still too close to satisfy Tim Schick, coordinating producer of media content for ESPN Outdoors.

"We could have easily been the targets of the pirates while we were there," Schick said. "In the first story posted about the hostages being released, there was a photo of one of them being reunited with his family. It was our camera-boat driver, George. That hits close to home. I can only imagine the international attention that would have followed if an ESPN film crew and a 13-year ESPN Outdoors host [Wejebe] had been held hostage these last few months."

The Indian Ocean Explorer, which was commissioned as a research boat when it was built in Great Britain in 1956, was destroyed by fire by the pirates, who had demanded $1 million to release the ship and the crew. Apparently miffed that they received only half of the demanded ransom from the ship's owner, the pirates torched it.

Besides serving as a mother ship for various fishing adventures arranged by Frontier Fly Fishing, Wejebe's hosts for the Seychelles trip, the Indian Ocean Explorer had been home at sea over the years for oceanographers such as Jacques Cousteau.