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South African hostages freed in Somalia

media Released South African hostages Bruno Pelizzari (C) and Debbie Calitz (L) are presented by Somalia's Minister of Defence Hussein Arab Isse (R) Reuters/Feisal Omar

Two South Africans who have been held hostages by Somali pirates for almost 20 months have been freed on Thursday.

According to Somalia's defence minister Hussen Arab Isse, the release follows the intervention of the Somali army.

The minister has however declined to give more information regarding the way his forces carried out the operation

He also declined to say whether any of the culprits behind the abduction had been apprehended.

He said that the Somali government is very happy about the successful outcome.

Isse would not say whether a ransom was paid.

Hostages Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari smiled but appeared exhausted at a news conference at the presidential palace in Mogadishu.

They were kidnapped in October 2010 from a yacht off the south-eastern African coast.

Their captors originally demanded a ransom of eight million euros.

When Somali pirates first began attacking ships off east Africa in 2005, they attacked large container ships. But as those vessels improved their on-board defences pirates began attacking more vulnerable private yachts.

International warships patrolling waters off Somalia have led to a decrease in pirate attacks over the last year.

Most pirate hostage cases end with payment of multi-million dollar ransoms.

Only five ships have been hijacked in 2012, an indication that on-board defences and  international patrols are succeeding against pirate attacks.

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