Captured Durban duo sold twice

Nivashni Nair

SOMALI pirates have sold Durban couple Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz to businessmen, who are now demanding a higher ransom for their release.

Pietermaritzburg-based aid organisation Gift of the Givers has discovered the Somali pirates, who kidnapped the couple almost 16 months ago, had sold them to another gang of pirates, who then sold them to the businessmen.

The organisation’s founder Imtiaz Sooliman said Gift of the Givers, which supplies humanitarian aid to war- stricken Somalia, has been acting as a negotiator on behalf of Pelizzari’s family to secure the couple’s release.

“We have discovered that the couple were sold twice. It appears that the people holding them have been moving with them further south of Mogadishu,” he said.

The pirates, who kidnapped the couple in October 2010, had demanded $4-million (about R30-million) from Pelizzari’s family but the businessmen want millions more.

Sooliman said there had been many “middlemen” until his organisation stepped in. “We hope the figure will be reduced because the businessmen are now dealing with only one negotiator.”

Sooliman was informed by a representative in Somalia that the couple were still alive. “Our representative has seen the couple. He could not take photographs or talk to them. We need to establish their identities but from his description, it appears that he did see the couple. They look in good condition but are run down because they are probably not used to the conditions of the area or the food.”

Sooliman could not put a timeframe on the couple’s release. “It’s difficult to say but we are praying and are hopeful.

“It is indeed a sad situation as those who have taken the couple captive do not realise the family have to depend on public support and donations to raise funds. The money is not coming from Gift of the Givers. It is being raised by the family and it is very hard,” he said.

The South African government’s policy is not to pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens. Bruno’s sister, Vera Hecht, said the SOS Bru and Deb Trust had been raising cash but the amount was nowhere near the ransom demand.

Although she has not seen any proof that her brother is alive, Hecht’s hopes of his return to South Africa have been boosted by Gift of the Givers.

“I believe they will help, especially during this delicate negotiating period. I am just keeping my fingers crossed.”

Hecht said her life had come to a standstill since the kidnapping.

“I just can’t focus. All I do is log onto the internet to research if there have been developments.”

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 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.

On his return to South Africa days later, he gave an account of his traumatic experience.

Eldridge, who lived on his yacht off the coast of Dar es Salaam, was returning to Richards Bay to visit his family when he asked the couple to crew for him.

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