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Somali pirates free Saudi tanker

Reuters

Somali pirates released a Saudi supertanker seized in the world’s biggest ship hijacking for a $3-million ransom Friday, but five drowned when their boat capsized as they were making off with their share.

The capture of the Sirius Star and its $100-million cargo of crude in November drew attention to a surge in piracy off Somalia that has brought global navies rushing to protect one of the world’s most important shipping lanes.

Farah Osman, an associate of the pirates speaking from Harardhere port near where the tanker was held, said the gang wanted more money but finally agreed to accept $3 million.

A regional maritime group confirmed the ship’s release.

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“The last batch of gunmen have disembarked from the Sirius Star. She is now steaming out to safe waters,” said Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, based in the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Osman said the gang argued over how to split the ransom money, then at least five were drowned in rough waters that engulfed one of the boats that left the Saudi ship.

“Five of the first eight pirates who took their share of the ransom from the Saudi ship died after their boat capsized,” he said.

“Two of them swam and survived. One is still missing. The weather was so terrible that it blew the boat over, then sank it. We got five dead bodies, and we are still searching for the missing one. The waves were disastrous.”

The Sirius Star was captured in November with 25 crew members, about 500 miles east of Kenya, in the boldest seizure to date by Somali pirates.

There was no immediate comment from Vela International, the shipping arm of Saudi Aramco, which operates the ship. The Sirius was heading south, possibly to anchor off Mombasa for resupplying or to go on to South Africa, Mwangura said.

The rampant piracy off Somalia worsened dramatically in 2008 while an Islamist insurgency fueled chaos ashore.


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