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Somali pirates release Danish family

COPENHAGEN, Sept 7 – Somali pirates have released seven Danes, including a family of five, who were taken hostage in February, Denmark’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday amid reports of a ransom payment.

“The seven Danes have been released and brought to safety,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that all were well and would return to Denmark soon.

Denmark gave no details of their release but maritime monitoring group Ecoterra International said a ransom was dropped by aircraft, and local Somali sources claimed up to four million dollars had been paid for their release.

Jan Qvist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie and their three children aged 13 to 17 left Denmark in August 2009 on a round-the-world trip by yacht. They had initially planned to return at the end of this summer.

They and their two Danish crew had been sailing some 300 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia when they were seized by pirates on February 24.

“Mediation was going on between the pirates and individuals working on their release in the past two weeks,” said Abduwahab Ali, an elder in the coastal village of Bandarbeyla, close to pirate bases in the northern Puntland region.

“They were finally freed after the pirates agreed for a ransom of three million dollars,” he told AFP.

A Somali pirate who gave his name as Guhad also told AFP he had heard “the Danish family was released with a ransom payment between three and four million dollars after long mediation talks.”

The Johansens and their crew were reportedly moved to the mountain village of Hul-Anod in Puntland in March, but after a failed attempt by government troops to free them they were transferred to a captured Greek vessel being used as the pirates’ mother ship.

The couple were criticised in Denmark after their abudction, accused of acting irresponsibly by taking their children into pirate-infested waters.

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“The couple are experienced sailors. They were virtually born on a boat. They are very responsible, full of enthusiasm, and they adore the sea and their children,” Carlo Knudsen, a neighbour in Kalundborg, told AFP in February.

According to the family’s travel blog, they were well aware of the danger and were trying to take measures to avoid an attack.

“We … set up an anti-piracy plan to know what to do if we are attacked, and each day we send our position” to an international naval force monitoring the Indian Ocean, father Jan posted on the blog on February 19.

“There has never been a (pirate) attack on a sailboat that has followed the recommended route,” he said.

And just a day before they were captured, 15-year-old son Hjalte wrote in the blog that “nothing has happened outside the usual, except that we have had a halfway-there party.”

Nonetheless, his father “Jan has sent about 1,000 emails again to everybody that we have NOT been attacked by pirates”, he wrote.

The Danish foreign ministry said Wednesday the pirates were still holding six sailors, two Danes and four Filippinos, from the cargo ship Leopard, which was seized in January.

“Danish authorities are following this matter very closely,” the ministry said.

Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged Horn of Africa nation and have taken millions of dollars in ransoms for their release.

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