, NAIROBI, May 10 – Somali pirates on Saturday released an Italian-operated, British-owned cargo ship that was seized in April, two maritime watchdog organisations said.
"The MV Malspina Castle was freed by her captors at around 5:30pm local time (1430 GMT)… after a ransom had been delivered," said Ecoterra International, an environmentalist group that monitors piracy and other illegal marine activities in the region.
Andrew Mwangura, who runs the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, also confirmed to AFP the vessel had been freed.
The 30,000-tonne bulk carrier, ferrying iron ore with a crew of 24, was seized in the Gulf of Aden on April 6, the same day a Taiwanese vessel was taken near the Seychelles.
The pirates first held it near Garaad and later moved it to Eyl in Somalia’s northern breakaway region of Puntland.
"The crew is said to be all right," said Ecoterra. It included 16 sailors from Bulgaria, four Filipinos, two Ukrainians, a Russian and an Indian.
At least 19 ships are still being held by Somali pirates along with several hundred mariners.
In the first quarter of 2009, 102 piracy incidents were reported to the International Maritime Bureau, nearly double the number during the same period in 2008.
Foreign naval ships, including from NATO and the European Union, have thwarted several hijacking attempts and made dozens of arrests.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Saturday that the problem of piracy would be one of the themes of the G8 summit that he will host in July.
"We will discuss piracy, a phenomenom which has recently appeared on an unprecedented scale," he said.