Somali pirates said on Friday they had freed a Saudi-owned supertanker, whose capture nearly two months ago caused panic in international shipping and spurred the world into tougher anti-piracy action.
The 330m Sirius Star, owned by the shipping arm of oil giant Saudi Aramco, was seized far off the east African coast on Nov. 15, in what was the pirates’ most daring attack and largest catch to date.
“All our people have now left the Sirius Star. The ship is free, the crew is free,” Mohamed Said, one of the leaders of the pirate group, said by telephone from the pirate lair of Harardhere.
Sahafi Abdi Aden, another of the group’s leaders speaking from the same town on Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast, also said the hijacking was over.
“I am in Harardhere now and the issue of the Sirius Star was resolved peacefully. I cannot go into the details of the agreement,” he said.
The amount of the ransom paid for the release of the ship was not yet known.
Pirates said days after seizing the Sirius Star they wanted US$25 million for its release.
Sources close to the negotiations said US$3 million was delivered to the pirate group onshore on Thursday. A dispute briefly erupted between the pirates over how the ransom money should be distributed.
A pirate later said five of the pirates who released the supertanker drowned with their share of the ransom after their small boat capsized.
Daud Nure said a boat with eight pirates on board overturned in a storm after dozens of pirates left the Sirius Star.
Vela International, Saudi Aramco’s shipping arm, would not immediately confirm or deny the news of its ship’s release.
The US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), which contributes to anti-piracy efforts in Somali waters, said the release of the Sirius Star was only a small step towards stamping out further attacks.
“The men who attacked the ship and held the crew hostage are armed criminals and consequently, we must remain steadfast in our efforts to address the international problem of piracy,” Commodore Tim Lowe, the deputy CMF commander, said in a statement.
The Sirius Star was manufactured in South Korea and delivered last year. It is believed to be worth around US$150 million and its cargo was estimated at the time of the hijacking at US$100 million.
The crew of the Sirius Star is made up of 25 people from Britain, Croatia, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Poland, where the ship’s captain hails from.
Somali pirates also released a Hong-Kong registered cargo ship chartered by Iran that was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in November, Iran’s state broadcaster said yesterday.
The urgent reaction committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines said the vessel named Delight was released on Friday evening.
It said all 25 members of the crew were safe but did not say whether any ransom had been paid.
Pirates operating off Somalia’s coast, in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, carried out more than 130 attacks last year alone, turning the region into the world’s most dangerous waters.