, NAIROBI, Jul 20 – Somali pirates have released a Norwegian tanker and a Kenyan-flagged fishing vessel they had been holding for more than four months after ransoms were paid, a maritime official said Tuesday.
"Both MT UBT Ocean and FV Sakoba have been released," Andrew Mwangura, who heads the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, told AFP.
"The UBT Ocean is on its way to Dar es Salaam. The Sakoba is on its way to Mombasa, her mother port," he said.
"We understand ransom has been paid," without elaborating on the amount.
Mwangura said he confirmed the two vessels\’ freedom on Tuesday but was not able to provide the exact date at which they were released.
The Sakoba was seized on February 26 off the Tanzanian island of Pemba with a crew of 16 from Spain, Poland, Kenya, Namibia and Cape Verde.
The fishing vessel is believed to have been used as a "mother ship" from which its captors launched an attack on March 5 to capture the UBT Ocean, a Norwegian-owned Marshall Islands-flagged ship with a crew of 21 from Myanmar.
According to Ecoterra International, an environmentalist NGO monitoring maritime activity in the region, the latest releases still leave at least 21 foreign ships in the hands of Somali pirates as well as 387 crew members.
Ecoterra described the Spanish-owned FV Sakoba as having "a murky track record" and a long history of fish poaching in the region.
In March, Kenya police dispersed a demonstration by the families of the fishing vessel\’s 10 Kenyan crew members who were complaining that the government was not keeping them informed of the fate of their loved ones nor working for their release.
Foreign naval powers have since 2008 deployed dozens of warships in a bid to secure the Gulf of Aden, a crucial maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which tens of thousands of merchant vessels transit each year.
But pirates have gradually extended their area of operations, seizing ships as far east as the Maldives\’ territorial waters and as far south as the Canal of Mozambique.
Naval missions, including the European Union\’s Atalanta deployment, have boasted success in curbing attacks but the number of hijacked ships and detained seafarers remains at one of its highest levels since Somali piracy surged in 2007.