(AFP) – Jun 21, 2012
JOHANNESBURG — A family member of a South African couple who were freed from Somali pirates denied Thursday that ransom had been paid, contradicting an earlier statement by another relative.
Somali authorities said a joint raid by security forces and the army had led to the freeing of the couple from "Al-Qaeda-affiliated" insurgents. South Africa said Italy was also heavily involved in the operation.
Nora Wright, the sister of one of the hostages, Bruno Pelizzari, said $500,000 in ransom had been agreed with the pirates two weeks ago, but that she was unaware of any money having been paid to secure their release.
"An amount was agreed to and everything happened very fast," said Wright, who said she is one of the three signatory to the bank account set up by the family to raise the ransom. "I can't confirm whether ransom was paid."
Two signatures are required for any funds to be released, and Wright said she and a second signatory had not signed off on any payments. The third signatory has departed for Rome.
"I have not signed for any amount to be paid," Wright told AFP.
Pelizzari and his partner Debbie Calitz were sailing in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Kenya in 2010 when their yacht was hijacked by 12 pirates who set course for Somalia and took the couple ashore at Baraawe.
"I am happy that they actually managed to rescue them without anything (being) paid. I don't believe that they should be paid for stealing people from their families," she added.
Earlier one of the sisters, Dora Hunt, emotionally told South African TV station eNews Channel: "We definitely paid something for their release."
South Africa has denied payment of ransom.
Wright said the couple from the eastern coastal city of Durban were expected to arrive back home this weekend.
"I am so glad it is all over and hopefully they will be back by the end of the weekend," she said.
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