SA couple kidnapped by pirates freed

2012-06-21 10:04

Two South Africans held hostage for 20 months after being kidnapped by Somali pirates have been freed.

The couple was among the longest-held by Somali pirates to date.

Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari smiled but appeared exhausted at a news conference at the presidential palace in Mogadishu today.

“We are very happy to get our freedom again,” Calitz said. “We are so happy today and to join our families again.”

The two were kidnapped in October 2010 from a yacht off the southeastern coast of Africa. Their pirate captors originally demanded a ransom of $10 million.

The South African department of international relations and co-operation said the couple’s release had been the result of a joint effort between South African, Italian and Somali authorities.

The South Africans’ 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 defences pirates began attacking more vulnerable private yachts.

An international flotilla of warships patrols the waters off Somalia, leading to a decrease in pirate attacks over the last year.

Somali Defence Minister Hussein Arab Isse credited Somali security forces with helping with the South African 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.

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 defences 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.

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