Kidnapped cruising sailors' families hold news conference

Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz
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Kidnapped cruising sailors Bruno Pelizzari and his partner Deborah Calitz are no nearer being freed after a news conference in Pretoria this week held by Bruno's sister Vera Pelizzari and Calitz's family - her brother and three daughters. The two have been in Somali pirates hands since October 2010.

Hopes that had been raised that a solution was near as Pelizzari announced that she had received a ransom demand for $10 million, news that had already been broadcast around the world, were dashed when they announced that no further progress had been made. Andrew Mwangura, officer of the Seafarer's Assistance Program, and frequent reporter on pirate issues, had earlier said that the pirates could be persuaded to take a smaller sum.

Pelizzari broke down during the news conference as she recalled the conversation with the pirates. The demanded ransom is an amount that neither the Calitz nor the Pelizzari family can afford, and the South African government has adopted a similar line to that adopted by Britain during the 12 month ordeal of the previous abducted sailors, Paul and Rachel Chandler. An undisclosed ransom was finally paid for the Chandlers by an similarly undisclosed source, although the Somali community of Britain is known to have been involved.

When asked what message Vera Pelizzari had for her brother, she cried, 'We love you, we love you.'

The two were taken hostage on October 26 while sailing from Dar es Salaam to South Africa with fellow yachtsman Peter Eldridge to spend Christmas with their families and to see their newborn grandchildren. Pelizzari and Calitz were forcibly removed from the yacht after it had run aground while being shadowed by a naval vessel. Eldridge, however, refused to leave Choizil, the yacht that he had built himself, and was left behind. He was later rescued.

The yacht is now reported to be being used by pirates for short haul transport.

For almost three months, nothing was heard from Calitz and Pelizzari, and even today, they have not been seen, heard or interviewed.

Calitz's brother, Dale van der Merwe, had demanded that they be allowed to speak to Deborah, but nothing has come of this request. This means they have no idea of their conditions, where they are, if they are alive or even if the person who claims to have them hostage really is with them.

Time and time again, the families have repeated the argument that made skipper Peter Eldridge believe that Somalis would not kidnap them, and that van der Merwe reiterated in the press conference: 'They are ordinary South Africans. They are not rich. They are not multimillionaires. They are just ordinary working-class people like you and me.

'They are your fellow Africans from the same continent as you, and suffer from the same problems that you do. We are begging you not to hurt them. We are begging you to send them home.'

In an emotional appeal Calitz’s daughters, Samantha de Jesus and Jackie and Kerri-Ann Cross said: 'Mom … we miss and love you. We are waiting at home for you and will see you soon.'