Kidnapped cruising sailors freed after 20 months captivity

Bruno Pelizzari, right, and Deborah Calitz, left, hold hands at the presidential palace a few hours after they were released by their captors in Mogadishu, Somalia - Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh
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They're FREE. Cruising sailors around the world will be jubilant to learn that Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari, cruising sailors kidnapped by Somali pirates almost two years ago, have been freed! This was announced by Somalia's Defence Minister yesterday.

The couple, from South Africa, was among the longest ever held by Somali pirates.

They had been kidnapped in October 2010 from a yacht that they were sailing down the coast of Africa, away from the normal haunts of Somali pirates. Their pirate captors originally demanded a ransom of $10 million.

The two celebrated at the presidential palace a few hours after they were released. They smiled but looked haggard and weary compared to the healthy sailors that had been kidnapped, when they appeared at a news conference at the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

'We are very happy to get our freedom again,' Calitz told reporters haltingly. 'We are so happy today and to join our families again.'

Deborah and Bruno at the press conference
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The couple's 20-month captivity is among the longest periods hostages have been held by pirates. When Somali pirates first began attacking ships off East Africa in about 2005, they attacked large container ships. But as those vessels improved their on-board defenses, pirates began attacking more vulnerable private yachts. An international flotilla of warships patrols waters off Somalia, leading to a decrease in pirate attacks over the last year.

Somali Defense Minister Hussein Arab Isse credited Somali security forces with helping with the couple's release, but he did not say that the pair had been rescued. He also declined to say if a ransom was paid. Most pirate hostage cases end with payment of multi-million dollar ransoms.

South Africa's government said it is gratified at the couple's release and expressed its gratitude to Somalia's government for helping with the release. South Africa also thanked the government of Italy for its role.

'Arrangements are being made for the return of the couple to South Africa,' the South African statement said.

The European Union Naval Force says Somali pirates currently hold seven ships and 213 hostages. The EU force says 25 ships were hijacked last year, down from 47 in 2010. Only five ships have been hijacked in 2012, an indication that on-board defenses and the international patrols are succeeding against pirate attacks.

The EU Naval Force saw its mandate expand earlier this year and is now allowed to carry out attacks on the Somali coast against suspected pirates.