“The nightmare has ended.”
That was the reaction from an overjoyed Keri-Ann Cross, whose mother Deborah Calitz was released this week with her partner Bruno Pelizzari after 20 months of being kept in captivity by Somalian pirates.
Last night, Cross, 21, said she and her two sisters, Samantha and Jackie and brother Jason, were overwhelmed when they heard on Thursday that their mother and Bruno were being freed.
“I had a hunch yesterday morning that it might happen soon,” said Cross, admitting they had received a tip-off that the release of the Durban hostages might be imminent.
Cross and her siblings have all spoken to their mother “a couple” of times since the release by their captors in Mogadishu on Thursday.
“She sounds fine and although she looks thin and exhausted, she’s alive and free, and that’s all that matters.
“We haven’t seen her for two years, there’s a lot to catch up.”
She added her mother was delighted to hear she had two new grandchildren alongside her grandson Dominic, 3.
“Samantha has a baby girl, Nikita, and Jason had his first one, Blake, who’s four months old,” she said.
Cross said they could not wait for their mother to arrive home. “For now, it’s just about seeing them and being a family again.”
The couple were taken hostage by pirates off the Kenyan coast in 2010, when the yacht they were crewing SY Choizil was captured.
A French warship began tracking the yacht as it was close to shore and, unable to make contact, sent in a boarding team.
The yacht’s skipper Peter Eldridge managed to escape during the ensuing shoot-out, but Pelizzari and Calitz were taken ashore by the pirates and disappeared.
In the following two years, Pelizzari’s sister, Vera Hecht, held numerous fundraising events towards a ransom to pay for the couple’s release.
The original ransom demand was $10 million (around R70m), which eventually dropped down to $1.5m.
Bruno Pelizzari’s niece Terry told the media yesterday that a ransom had been paid, but the amount had not been confirmed.
She added that the Italian government had also been instrumental in securing the couple’s release and that Pelizzari would be visiting his mother in Rome before flying home. The couple are expected to arrive in SA on Tuesday or Wednesday.