4/23/2019
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‘I’m free, I’m finally free’

Friday, June 22, 2012
Michael Appel and Ina Skosana


FREEDOM: Released South African hostages Debbie Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari celebrate in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu yesterday. Picture: REUTERS

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Kerri-Ann Cross, 21, whose mother Debbie Calitz was kidnapped by Somali pirates two years ago, yesterday related how she told her mother, on the phone, that she loved her – for the first time in three years.

“Her response was ‘Kerri, it’s fine, I’m free, I’m finally free’,” said Cross.

Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari were kidnapped from their yacht off the south-eastern coast of Africa in October 2010 and were held by Somali pirates who demanded $10m (R83m) from the family.

The 20-month ordeal, the longest hostage situation in the conflict-ridden Horn of Africa nation to date, ended yesterday following a rescue operation that reportedly began on Wednesday evening involving the joint efforts of Somali security forces and the army.

Cross said she had whispered, “I will see you soon,” to an A4-size photo of her mother before she fell asleep on Wednesday.

She received a call at 5am yesterday morning informing her of the good news that her mother had been freed and was safe.

“In my pyjamas I went straight to buy airtime so that I could let the rest of my family know,” said Cross. “I spoke to her (Calitz) and Bruno earlier today for the first time in two years.

“It was truly amazing. She (her mother) said she hadn’t gone through too much damage.

“I couldn’t hear her properly as the line was very bad but for the first time in three years I told her I loved her. My mother told me not to worry as she was free.”

Addressing the media at a Department of International Relations and Cooperation briefing yesterday, an elated Cross explained that despite her joy, she felt for those still kidnapped as well as their families and urged them to keep the faith.

“Just like ours, your prayers will be answered,” she said.

Cross, who had spent her 21st birthday without her mother, said yesterday was the second best day of her life, with the best day being when her mother gets back.

Calitz’s brother, Dale van der Merwe, told media that in the absence of Pelizzari’s family, he wanted to say how elated and absolutely ecstatic they were. He expressed the families’ gratitude to not only the governments involved but also to the public.

Deputy director-general, Sonto Kudjoe said her department had been in touch with the family every step of the way.

“We did not pay ransom as it is not government policy. We were in contact with all the relevant role players that included Italy, Turkey and Qatar (that all have a diplomatic presence in Somalia).”

Kudjoe said the release was achieved “via diplomatic pressure”. The couple will be flown to Djibouti and then on to Rome. The family expects Calitz and Pelizzari to arrive back in South Africa next week.

According to statistics from the European Union Naval Force Somalia there have been 420 attacks on vessels near the Horn of Africa by Somali pirates since 2009. Of those 420 attempts over the past four years, 46 vessels were successfully pirated in 2009, 47 in 2010, 25 in 2011 and five this year.

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