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Pirates earn Sh600m from two hostages

MOGADISHU, May 15 – Somali pirates received a ransom of seven million dollars (Sh603 million) for the release of two Spanish hostages held for four and a half months, a pirate said Sunday.

"The money was left by air on an Italian building (controlled by pirates)" on Saturday, said Abdi Yare, a pirate operating from the northeast Somali port of Hobyo.

An elder in Hobyo, Mohamed Duale, said the ransom payment was dropped by helicopter. "The ransom is the biggest I\’ve ever heard of for the release of just two hostages," he told AFP.

"The two hostages are free and waiting to be taken to their country," said Yare, reached by telephone from Mogadishu.

The Spanish foreign ministry said Saturday it could not confirm the release of the two Spaniards, and the media reports quoting government sources gave no details.

The online edition of El Pais daily, citing government sources, reported Saturday that the captain of the Vega 5, Juan Alfonso Rey Echeverri, and first officer Jose Alfonso Garcia were safe aboard a vessel of their employer, the Pecanova company.

They were the only Westerners aboard a Mozambican fishing vessel seized in the Mozambique Channel at the end of December.

The Indian navy had recovered the 140-tonne Vega 5 in March but the two Spaniards were not aboard. Photographs showed them on dry land surrounded by armed men.

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Thirteen of the 22 crew members — 12 Mozambicans and an Indonesian — were rescued after jumping into the water during the raid by the Indian navy.

The other crew members, seven Mozambicans and two Indonesians, are missing and feared dead, according to Ecoterra, an advocacy group monitoring piracy in the Indian Ocean.

Heavily armed pirates using speedboats operating from lawless Somalia have been attacking ships over a vast area for years despite the presence of dozens of warships from navies around the world.

The largest ransoms paid to date, according to pirates, have been in exchange for the release of oil supertankers.

A record was set last November when nine million dollars was paid for the release of the Samho Dream, captured the previous April with a crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos and a cargo of Iraqi oil headed for the United States.

In late 2009 a Spanish trawler, the Alakrana, was released along with its crew of 36 against a ransom of four million dollars, according to the pirates.

Dozens of suspected Somali pirates are being held in Kenyan prisons and many have been sentenced to jail terms, but successful prosecutions are difficult.

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