MOGADISHU, September 27 – Somali pirates holding more than a dozen merchant ships hostage released a Japanese vessel Saturday for a ransom of two million dollars, a local official said.,
The Stella Maris, which was hijacked on July 20, had been loaded with lead and zinc and had a crew of some 20 Filipinos.
"The pirates released the Japanese ship after they were paid a ransom of two million dollars. The ship sailed off safely from Garad coastal village where they held it," said Abdukadir Muse Yusuf, a deputy minister in the breakaway Somali region of Puntland.
The release was confirmed by Andrew Mwangura of the regional chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme.
Egypt’s MENA news agency also reported Saturday that pirates had released an Egyptian ship with 25 crew on board which was hijacked earlier this month off Somalia’s Puntland region.
The pirates, who had demanded a ransom before releasing the hostages and ship, allowed the vessel to set sail late on Friday, MENA reported.
No details were available on whether a ransom was paid.
At the same time the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur said a Greek chemical tanker with 19 crew on board had been hijacked Friday by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
Also seized Friday was a Ukrainian freighter carrying weaponry, including 33 T-72 battle tanks for the Kenyan army, prompting Russia to dispatch a frigate to the area.
The waters off Somalia have become extremely dangerous in recent years due to piracy as the Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.
Somali pirates are now holding some 15 ships, and are attacking further out to sea and on two fronts to evade international security, Reporting Centre head Noel Choong said.