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Kidnapped South African cruising sailors confirmed alive

by Tamlyn Canham, Newswatch/Sail-World Cruising on 11 May 2012
Bruno and Debbie, held for over a year by Somali pirates .. .
It has been a long agonising wait, not over yet, but the family of a South African man who was taken hostage by Somali pirates 19 months ago is relieved to have received confirmation that he and his partner are alive.

Durban couple, Bruno Pelizzari, 52, and Debbie Calitz, 49, were kidnapped by Somali pirates in October 2010 and have been in captivity ever since.


Vera Hecht, who is Bruno Pelizzari's sister, says she recently sent the pirates a list of questions only her brother and his girlfriend Debbie Calitz would be able to answer.

She says despite the pirates turning down their latest ransom offer they haven't given up hope that the couple will return home safely.

The pair were taken hostage on a yacht in the Mozambique Channel and their families have been desperately trying to secure their release ever since.

An emotional Hecht, who last had contact with her brother last year says she recently received a reply from the pirates with statements from the couple.

'They made two statements, a statement further confirming that it's them and they are alive and they also signed and it was scanned and emailed,' she said.

'It's very sensitive, very tense ... but we are all hanging in together and being hopeful together that this will still come to a happy ending.'

When their yacht, Choizil, was attacked the skipper/owner of the yacht managed to escape but the couple were whisked away into the Somali jungle. A ransom of $4m (£2.5m) was demanded for their release, but this has been watered down over time.

Bruno has two sons, Debbie has three daughters and a son. Both Bruno and Debbie have one new grandchild each, whom they were sailing to meet for the first time when the kidnap occurred.

In a telephone call some months ago, Debbie Calitz told her of concerns about their diets in captivity. 'We are deficient in vitamins and minerals and everything. We are deficient in all of that… and Bruno's hair is falling out.'

It was the first time that Miss Calitz had been allowed to talk to family or friends back home since the pirate attack and she asked whether they would ever be released. 'Vera, is there any way we are going to get out of here?'

Passion for sailing:
According to their families, the couple has a passion for sailing and had sold everything to fulfil a dream.
They are said to have been living very simply - 'hand to mouth', as Debbie Calitz's brother, Dale van der Merwe, put it - fishing as they sailed. Bruno Pelizzari is described by his sister as 'an old surfer beach boy with salt in his blood'.

The South African government has continually maintained that while it will not negotiate with pirates it is not going to intervene in the family's attempts to raise the ransom money and that it will continue to support them within its 'consular mandate'.

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