South African Somalis help effort to free kidnapped cruising sailors

Pelizzari Bruno and Deborah Calitz held captive in Somalia since OCT 26 2010
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On October 26, 2010, Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz were helping a yacht owner move his yacht south to Richards Bay in South Africa where they intended to see their first grandchild when they were kidnapped by Somali pirates. For the last seventeen months, in spite of money raising efforts by the family and intermittent publicity by the mainstream press, they are still in captivity.

Bruno Choizil
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Peter Eldridge’s yacht Choizil was pirated on the high seas near Tanzania by AK47-wielding pirates and he, along with Bruno and Deborah, were held hostage for 13 days before the yacht ws run aground. Eldridge was left on the yacht after he refused to disembark, but the couple were taken hostage.

Eldridge was rescued by a Dutch warship and returned to his home port of Richards Bay and his yacht was retrieved and returned to him.

Five Somali pirates – among those who hijacked Eldridge – were arrested by the anti-piracy task force and put on trial in the Netherlands law courts in August of 2011. They were sentenced to seven years in prison.

All this time Bruno and Calitz were held hostage. A ransom of $4 million was demanded. South Africa, like many countries does not negotiate with pirates.

Then in February 2012, the pirates who abducted the couple SOLD them to another gang who were already holding 21 other foreigners, and then, according to Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder of aid organisation Gift of the Givers, they were sold yet again to another group.

The last contact the two had with their family was in September 2011, when their captors allowed Pelizzari to call his sister, Vera Hecht.

'We are in negotiations with the new captors – they are not aggressive and they say they have spent money buying the couple and for other expenses and they want to make a deal.

'The ransom has been substantially reduced to under $1 million.' She said Gift of the Givers were now facilitating the negotiations.

Hecht said although there were no pictures that proved the go-between had met with Bruno and Deborah, the family believed the meeting had taken place.

'The pirates are just giving them enough food to survive,' she said.

Hecht said although the ransom had been reduced, the family’s fundraising efforts was nowhere near the amount being demanded.

Now Cape Town’s Somali community has joined the fundaising efforts to help free them. The undisclosed sum was handed to Vera Hecht, sister of Bruno Pelizzari, at an event in Bellville this week.

Hecht said the local Somalis learnt of her family’s plight from the internet, and called her to offer help.

Some of the money was donated by a Somali man crippled when he was attacked by a South African in a local township, according to Alas Jama, spokesman for the Somali donors, who added that even a boy of seven had donated some money.

The group, together with Hecht, also filmed a message this weekend which they said would be broadcast on various satellite and national TV channels. In it, they appeal to the international community for help in securing the release of Pelizzari and Calitz. 'I’m so grateful. It was really worth it to come down to Cape Town. I’m so thankful they are helping to get this message across,' Hecht said.

Some of the Somalis said they were members of the Somali Association of South Africa. Others represented the Parow Muslim Community Trust.

Jama said: 'Our message will be repeated on Somali universal television and on Arab satellite television, which Somalians will hear. 'We’re happy to contribute to the cause.'

Mohamed Hadith Adam, said they saw themselves as Somali South Africans who cared about their fellow South Africans.

'We condemn in the strongest terms the actions of criminal elements who victimised this couple.'

Seventeen months and counting...

If you would like to donate money to the cause of freeing Bruno and Debbie, go to http://sosbrunodebbie.co.za/