Somali pirates $4m ransom stays

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Vera Hecht stands with musician Steve Fataar, whose band played a benefit concert to raise funds for Bruno Pelizzari and his partner Debbie Calitz’s release. Picture: Shelley Kjonstad

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Vera Hecht wants “Mr Ali”, the Somali pirate negotiator, to see how hard she is working to raise the ransom demanded for the safe return of her brother and his partner so she is having a website created to document all the fundraising endeavours being undertaken.

Perhaps then “Mr Ali” would lower the current demand of $4 million (R32 million) for Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz’s safe return.

A benefit concert in Durban on Sunday night yielded just under R4 000, and Hecht hasn’t yet tallied the proceeds from SMS donations over the past few days, which would be added to the R190 000 she has raised since September.

An auction of donated goods is planned for January, but she wanted her brother to be back “way before that”.

Hecht’s fiancé, Colin Abbood, has also written two songs as part of the “SOS Bruno and Debbie” campaign, which Hecht hopes will receive airtime on local radio stations.

The last time she heard Pelizzari’s voice was in October, when they held a “conference call” with Calitz and “Mr Ali”. The negotiator

allowed Hecht to record the conversation to “help” bring in further funds. It was this recording that Hecht played at Sunday night’s concert.

Hecht communicates with “Mr Ali” fortnightly, and has learnt to speak politely. They have a good rapport, Hecht thinks.

“I say to him ‘Please Mr Ali, give them food, be nice to them’,” she said.

“We’re praying that the pirates have a change of heart,” she said when asked about the possibility of the ransom being reduced.

It had been brought down to $500 000 (R4m), but was again raised to $4m because the captors believed the SA government would hand over the sum. “I think Mr Ali is slowly realising they won’t,” said Hecht.

Calitz and Pelizzari were kidnapped more than a year ago, when Somali pirates seized the yacht Choizil off the Tanzanian coast.

Eldridge refused to disembark when the pirates struck and was left alone while the couple were taken ashore. He was later rescued by the French navy.

Hecht said the pair thought Eldridge was dead, because he had been in the radio room when the pirates opened fire on the cabin.

She does not think the season of goodwill will soften the hearts of the pirates either.

“They don’t care about anything; Christmas Day will just be another day,” she said.

Hecht plans to spend Christmas with Pelizzari’s sons.

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Somali pirates $4m ransom stays

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