SA air crew held as ‘insurance’ in E Guinea

The Department of Foreign Affairs has appealed to the government of Equatorial Guinea to either charge or release two South African air-crew members being refused exit from the oil-rich West African state.

Sechan Pillay and Ruwaide Kalbine have been unable to leave since November 17.

They are believed to be pawns in a battle involving a string of companies involved in an aviation deal that went wrong.

It is alleged they are being held as ”insurance” and that Equatorial Guinea’s minister of finance is a partner in one of the companies involved in the dispute.

”The Department of Foreign Affairs is in consultation with Equatorial Guinea so that they are not simply being kept there because of difficulties between two companies,” said spokesperson Nomfanela Kota.

”We are in constant consultation with the authorities in Equatorial Guinea,” she said. ”It is of great concern to us and we are trying to have this resolved as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Pillay’s sister, Nisha, is anxious for her brother and his colleague to come home.

First in the line of companies that made a string of deals was Global Aviation Leasing (GAL), which entered into a contract with Venatto Trading to fly one of its aircraft, signed through a deal with Air Quarius, said chief executive Daniel Rosenzweig.

Venatto was then contracted to fly goods for the local airline Guinea Ecuatorial de Transportes Aereos between the country’s island capital, Malabo, Bata on the mainland and Douala in neighbouring Cameroon, said Venatto MD Mike Commorant.

Rosenzweig said that when the aircraft had to leave Equatorial Guinea, a Venatto representative physically removed Pillay and Kalbine from the aircraft.

”He stated he would hold them as an ‘insurance’ pending the insurance of the aircraft,” said Rosenzweig. ”Crew cannot be a negotiating chip. This is reprehensible.”

The story was ”getting twisted, said Commorant, who added that the allegation was ”totally incorrect” and that on Monday morning he would meet with Air Quarius to sort things out. ”Our contract is with Air Quarius,” he said.

He said he had battled to meet with Rosenzweig.

Nonetheless, Commorant believed the issue would be resolved.

”It is not a big issue. I am sure it will all be resolved by the close of business today.”

On Monday afternoon, Commorant could not be reached for comment.

Rosenzweig said his company was dealing directly with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

”All we want is our crew back,” he said.

Rosenzweig said that Getra — in which Equatorial Guinea’s finance minister had a stake — had been flying hazardous materials, arms and ammunition and acting in breach of safety regulations.

The aircraft had left the country to have its brakes repaired, said Rosenzweig.

Meanwhile, Pillay’s sister said that while she has been assured that her brother is safe and being housed and fed while being kept against his will, he and his colleague could just as well be housed and fed back home.

”They do not need to eat in Equatorial Guinea.”

The two crew members are staying at the home of a member of the South African embassy.

Pillay also said that while her family appreciates the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, they feel that GAL, which employs the two, should be doing more to resolve the dispute and ensure their safe return. — Sapa

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