Somali pirates release Greek-owned ship; 21 crew safe and healthy

Friday, December 18, 2009

Somali pirates release Greek-owned ship, 21 crew

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali pirates have released a Greek-owned ship and its 21 crew members, including 14 Filipinos, after more than a month in captivity, the Philippine government and the ship’s owner said Friday.

The embassy of the Philippines in Nairobi reported that the MV Delvina was heading to Mombasa with its crew, who were safe and in good health. Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Malaya said the ship, seized on Nov. 5, was released around 2 a.m. Friday (1 p.m. EST Thursday, 1800 GMT Thursday).

“All the crew are reported unharmed and are well despite their 43-day ordeal,” the ship’s owner, Meadway Shipping & Trading Inc., said in a statement in Athens, Greece.

The company did not give any other details about the ship’s release, including whether a ransom was paid. It said it did not want to jeopardize the safety of other ships and crew still being held by pirates.

The Philippine government’s statement said 53 Filipino sailors on four ships were still being held by the pirates. More than 340 others have been freed since 2006. Filipinos account for about 30 percent of the world’s 1.2 million merchant sailors.

Even after the release, pirates still hold at least 10 ships and more than 200 crew members.

Meanwhile, sailors from a Portuguese warship boarded a suspected pirate ship off the coast of Somalia.

The crew of the Alvares Cabral identified a ladder, boarding hooks and weapons on a skiff during a patrol in the Gulf of Aden around dawn Friday, said naval spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Alexandre Santos Fernandes. A naval helicopter approached the skiff and fired warning shots but the men threw the equipment overboard.

Sailors from the warship inspected the skiff and ensured there were no weapons or equipment aboard. They then released the men and the skiff with enough fuel to get to Somalia.

Most warships follow a “disrupt and deter” policy rather than arresting suspected pirates and taking them for long and costly trials onshore.

Earlier Friday, the Dutch government announced it had freed 13 Somali pirates it detained nearly two weeks ago after the European Union failed to find a country willing to prosecute them. The men were released back into their own boat.

Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop said he regretted that neither Kenya nor Tanzania was prepared to take the men despite requests from the EU.

The pirates were arrested and a cache of weapons, including automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, was impounded by Dutch marines after they tried unsuccessfully to board a merchant ship, the BBC Togo, on Dec. 2.

Somali pirates have launched more than 200 attacks this year against vessels. Forty-three have been successful, according to the International Maritime Bureau. A successful hijacking can bring millions of dollars in ransom payment.

Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre before turning on one another. The lawlessness on land has allowed piracy to flourish off Somalia’s coastline, which includes the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest waterways.

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