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20 Months in Hostage Hell
20 MONTHS IN HOSTAGE HELL
DEBBIE CALITZ with ULRIKE HILL
ISBN 9 780143 530589
Two days into this account of how Debbie Calitz and her friend Bruno Pelizzari were captured for ransom by Somali pirates, the Sunday Times (January 6, 2013) ran Briton Terry Waite’s article about his own hostage drama in Beirut, Lebanon, that would last five long years. He was writing because the war currently raging in Syria threatens to spill into neighbouring Lebanon, causing disquiet there.
Waite, posted to the hotspot as a special envoy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, was ironically in Beirut to negotiate the release of hostages when he too was captured in 1987. A whole international brouhaha erupted after this, bringing to attention the spate of kidnaps in the area. In a side bar headlined ‘Welcome to the kidnap capital of the world,’ the Sunday Times article reflects that ‘between 1982 and 1992, nowhere was more notorious for kidnappings than Lebanon. In all 96 Westerners were kidnapped by groups, including the Islamic Jihad Organisation and Hezbollah’.
While those like the IJO and Hezbollah, who snatched Waite, were fighting a known war against ‘the involvement of foreign forces in Lebanon’- signaled by the invasion of Israel in 1982, the Somali who abducted Calitz and Pelizzari seem to be disparate forces bent on extracting a much higher ransom than the previous group. Could it perhaps have given their cause more credibility to fight strictly against foreign trawlers depleting Somali resources and fishing illegally in the waters of the east African country? [At 3 300 km Somalia is said to have the longest coastline on the continent.] What these marauding Somali gangs have done instead is to cheapen their struggle by trading off hostages like Calitz and Pelizzari as if they were wares of commerce, with the potential to be sold at a profit. A veil of secrecy surrounds the money paid – if there was any at all, to secure the release of the duo, taken off the yacht of a friend who was going to pay them to sail it with him to South Africa from a port in Tanzania. When they were captured off the Choizil, owned by Peter Eldridge, they had left their own, Aaran, moored in Dar es Salaam and were nipping quickly back home to make a fast buck – and see family. When they arrived in Dar, they had suffered crippling theft in Mozambique – they were minus their GPS, an indispensable tool on a planned world cruise such as theirs. Out of pocket and with only seventy Rand between them, Eldridge’s was the proverbial offer not to be missed.
But they would not see the world. Instead, when they were captured, so began, as the title infers, twenty months of hell in hostage. Separated from Eldridge at some stage in their kidnapping because he gave the abductors a hard time, Calitz and Pelizzari would endure hell on earth that was surprisingly – for a large part of their forced stay – peppered with a good staple of rice and vegetables, often with garlic and ginger.
But like Waite before them, when they were moved between locations, it was always in the boot of a car, blindfolded. They were shunted around a lot between locations. Like the Brit, who was freed in November 1991, the pair was subjected to beatings. Worse for Calitz, she was sexually molested.
It is an experience one wouldn’t wish on one’s worst enemy. Calitz would tell you that much.
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