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6 dead as pirates fight over ransom

MOGADISHU, Jan 19 – At least six people have been killed during intense fighting between rival Somali pirates arguing over a record ransom paid for an oil-laden Greek supertanker, elders and pirates said on Tuesday.

Three pirates and a civilian were killed in the latest bout of fighting that erupted in the town of Harardhere late Monday, elders and pirates told AFP by phone.

Tension has been high in the central Somali pirate lair ever since an estimated seven million dollars were dropped by a small plane on Sunday for the release of the VLCC Maran Centaurus, a Greek-flagged supertanker a third of a kilometre (300 yards) long and carrying two million barrels of crude oil.

"The situation is calm this morning but there is still tension between the pirates. Three of them, including a senior pirate leader, were killed so far and three others were injured," local elder Moalim Abdalla Hasan told AFP.

"We are trying to mediate between them because they are disturbing our peace. A civilian was killed in the crossfire and the residents are very concerned about this feud," he added.

Hasan Nile, a local grocer who could not open his shop on Tuesday because of the security situation in Harardhere, said the pirate vendetta involved vehicles and heavy weapons.

"I think there will not be trust between them any more since they killed each other. Three pirates have died already since yesterday and if there\\\’s no swift mediation, more will die, including civilians," Nile said.

Harardhere resident Husein Warsame said late Monday that the fighting had brought life to a standstill.

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"There is no movement so far, the pirates are exchanging heavy machinegun fire inside the town and there are dead bodies in the streets," he said.

According to other sources in Harardhere, two pirates died when a dispute flared on Sunday, immediately after the Maran Centaurus\\\’ ransom was delivered, bringing to six the number of people killed over the disputed ransom.

Somalia\\\’s pirates treat every successful hijacking like a private venture in which businessmen from all over the country can invest by offering financial or material assistance, buying and selling shares. Related article: Rich rewards of piracy lures Somali youth

The bigger the captured vessel, the more complex the shareholder structure. Squabbling over a ransom is not uncommon but Monday night\\\’s clashes were some of the most violent ever seen among Somalia\\\’s otherwise relatively-united pirate community.

According to Ecoterra International, an environmentalist NGO monitoring illegal maritime activity in the region, the pirates received up to nine million dollars in at least two separate payments.

Upward of seven million dollars were dropped on the deck of the Maran Centaurus on Sunday and the rest paid by cash transfer. Related article: The risks of collecting the ransom

While pirates have been known to redistribute part of their share to friends and locals, some residents have complained that the modern-day buccaneers have brought inflation, alcohol and prostitution to the region.

The operators of the Maran Centaurus, the second largest vessel captured by pirates yet, confirmed the supertanker and its crew of 28 were freed on Monday and were heading for the South African port of Durban.

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