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  15th September 2008 - STAR MARITIME

Somali pirates want ransom from Egypt

SOMALI pirates who recently hijacked an Egyptian ship have demanded a ransom payment for the vessel and its 25 crew members, Egypt’s state news agency said last Monday.

The state news agency added that Egypt is optimistic the crisis will end soon.

Somali gunmen hijacked the boat as it plied the increasingly dangerous Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen.

The ship is the latest taken in a series of such hijackings in a major global sea artery used by nearly 20,000 vessels a year heading to and from the Suez Canal.

“The hijackers asked for a monetary amount to free the ship,” state news agency MENA quoted assistant Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs Ahmed Rizq.

“There are continuous and heavy contacts to settle this problem in the shortest time possible,” he added. He did not say how much money the pirates had asked for.

Somali gunmen are holding more than 10 ships for ransom at Eyl, a lawless former fishing outpost now used by gangs.

One of those ships, an Iranian chemical carrier called Iran Deyanat, fetched a US$200,000 payment from its owners, but was not released as expected on Monday, a regional maritime group said.

“It was supposed to be released, but now they are saying the US$200,000 was for facilitation only.

“They want more money for the ransom,” said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme.

He said the pirates were angry because when they opened the cargo of the Iranian ship, several Somalis died, while others lost hair and suffered skin burns.

“It must have been a very dangerous chemical,” he said, without identifying the substance.

Hijackings have become commonplace off Somalia, especially in waters next to the semi-autonomous Puntland region. Pirates often treat hostages well in the expectation of a ransom.

The owner of the Egyptian vessel was in contact with the crew and said they were in a good condition, MENA reported. - Reuters


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