South Africa stays firm - no ransom payment for cruising sailors

Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz - kidnapped in October 2010
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Somali pirates who kidnapped Durban couple Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz almost a year ago have promised to kill them if the $4-million ransom is not paid soon. However, the South African Government, along with the British Government and many others, considers that the payment of ransoms by governments will only increase the risk to future sailors, and have refused.

Pelizzari and Calitz, as well as previous cruising sailors abducted such as the Chandlers from Britain and the Johansens from Denmark, become pawns in an ugly international game.

Relatives of the kidnapped sailors Vera Pelizzari(Bruno’s sister) and Dale van der Merwe, a relative of Deborah
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In the first telephone call made recently this month to his sister Vera Pelizzari was quoted by the South African TimesLive as saying: 'I know you are doing everything you can. If they do not get the ransom, they are going to kill us.'

Vera this week confirmed the conversation was with her brother. 'I know he is alive. I heard his voice and I knew it was him.'

She said that a pirate named Ali had been calling her weekly.

'He wants the money. He has called me every week demanding the ransom. I have explained to him that we are not rich. We are normal South Africans. I told him that it is going to take time to get the money,' she said.

Desperate to raise the ransom, Pelizzari's family has registered the SOS Bru and Deb Trust.

'We have been forced to beg for public donations. We had to get the NGO certificate and then the stamp of approval of the government so the trust has only been active since Thursday. We have also opened an SMS donation facility. The SMS costs R10 and so far we have received about 200 text messages,' Vera said.

Vera had negotiated with Ali on the phone to drop the ransom to $500000 but it was put back up to $4-million.

'I have negotiated the ransom once before and I hope I can get the figure knocked down,' she said.

Department of International Relations spokesman Clayson Monyela yesterday confirmed it was South African government policy not to pay ransoms and therefore the couple's families were dealing with the kidnapping.

'There is no real latest news on the issue. The people who have taken the couple are speaking to the family because we do not pay ransoms,' he said.

The Pelizzari family is hoping that the couple will be home by Christmas.

'I am hoping but I don't want to raise expectations because I know the ransom demand is very high. It is going to take months to raise that sort of money. I would like to think that we have the South African public behind us,' Vera said.

'I have never been this scared in my life. I am angry, I am sad and I am disappointed. I don't ever want another family to experience what we have been going through.'

Pelizzari and Calitz were aboard the yacht Choizil with skipper Peter Eldridge when Somali pirates boarded it on October 26 off the coast of Tanzania.

They tried to convince their captors that they were working-class people who could not pay a ransom.

Eldridge refused to leave his vessel but the couple were forced to go with their captors.