Wed, Oct 01, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Somali pirates release oil tankers

THE REST OF THE STORY A pirate spokesman said that the group had demanded US$20 million to release a freighter as a ‘fine for unlawfully transporting weapons’

AFP , KUALA LUMPUR AND NAIROBI

Somali pirates have released two Malaysian oil tankers and their crews in exchange for ransom a month after hijacking the vessels, a shipping company official said yesterday.

“A ransom was paid for both the ships. We delivered the money with the help of the Malaysian navy. It was cash on delivery,” Mohamad Hassan Marican, chairman of state-controlled MISC Bhd, which owns the ships, told reporters.

Hassan declined to reveal the amount of the deal but local reports citing defense officials said US$4 million was paid for the two ships.

The MT Bunga Melati Dua was hijacked on Aug. 19 in the Gulf of Aden with its crew of 29 Malaysian seafarers and 10 Filipinos. One Filipino crewman was killed by a stray bullet when pirates boarded the ship, which was carrying palm oil and sailing to Rotterdam.

Subsequently, on Aug. 29 MT Bunga Melati 5 was captured in the same area with 36 Malaysian sailors and five Filipinos on board.

Hassan said the two ships were being escorted out of the pirate-infested waters to Djibouti.

“They are being escorted by our navy ships. The whole area is an unsecure area,” he said.

FREIGHTER

Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian freighter carrying military hardware said yesterday the weapons were headed for Sudan and not Kenya, and denied that three of their own were killed in a shootout.

“We are confirming that these weapons do not belong to the government of Kenya but belong to southern Sudan,” pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said over satellite telephone from the ship.

“But whoever is the weapons’ owner is not our problem, our problem is the US$20 million,” he said, referring to their demands for ransom.

Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet, said on Monday that the MV Faina — with its cargo of 33 Soviet-type combat tanks and other military hardware — was destined for a client in Sudan.

Both Kiev and Nairobi have denied Washington’s claim, as did a Sudanese army spokesman.

The ship, was seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean last week on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, is currently being shadowed by US navy warships.

Kenya had said from the onset that the shipment was being delivered as part of a agreement with Ukraine to update its military hardware.

The pirates have demanded millions of dollars to free the Belize-flagged ship, its cargo and crew of 21 consisting of Ukrainians, Russians and Latvians. But the ship’s captain died of an illness on board, Russian media said.

“We are sticking to the demand for US$20 million. This is not ransom, but a fine for unlawfully transporting weapons on Somali waters,” Sugule said.

The spokesman denied claims by Andrew Mwangura, who runs the Seafarers Assistance Program in Kenya, that three pirates were killed in a shootout triggered by disagreement on what to with the captured ship.

Mwangura said moderate and hardline pirates fought late on Monday.

“We are united as we were before and there was no fighting among us,” Sugule said. “This is propaganda being spread by some people who are not aware of our situation. We are united in punishing those who abuse Somali waters.”

Piracy along Somalia’s long, unpatrolled coastline on the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden started years ago as an effort to deter foreign fishing boats depleting the country’s maritime resources.

It has bloomed into a well-organized industry, with pirates armed to the teeth targeting anything from yachts to huge merchant vessels and demanding huge ransoms.

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