Two South Africans freed by Somali pirates after 20 months in captivity

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A South African man and woman taken hostage by Somali pirates in October 2010 have been released and are in the hands of the Somali government, a Reuters witness said today.

A dozen armed pirates hijacked the pair’s yacht, the Choizil, on October 26 as it was about to enter the Mozambique channel south of the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam. It was on route from Dar es Salaam to Richards Bay, captained by Peter Eldridge, with Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz as crew.

In November the yacht arrived in Somalia and Pelizzari and Calitz were taken ashore, but Eldridge refused to leave the vessel and was subsequently rescued by the European Union anti-piracy taskforce.
“Today we are happy to get our freedom back,” Pelizzari told reporters. “We are so happy today and to join our families again,” Calitz said.

It was not immediately clear if a ransom was paid. The pirate gang initially demanded US$10 million from the families of Pelizzari and his companion Debbie Calitz.

The ransom demand dropped as low as US$500,000 in March last year, according to a blog set up to highlight their plight, but was raised again as negotiations stumbled.

Somali pirates preying on merchant vessels and private yachts in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden raked in more than US$150 million in ransoms last year.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of June 18, there have been 163 attacks against ships around the world this year, and 18 successful hijackings. Somali pirates have been responsible for 63 attacks and 12 hijackings. They are currently holding a dozen vessels and 178 hostages. Already this month there have been three attempted hijackings and two suspicious incidents off the horn of Africa.



Although ship hijackings have dropped dramatically due to international patrols and the use of private armed security personnel, hijackings continue. Pirates are increasingly turning to less well defended targets, such as yachts, because of increased security and awareness.