Update (March 11, 2013):
European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) reports today the 26 crewmembers of M/T Smyrni have been released as of Sunday 10 March at 2053 (CET) with assistance from the Indian government. The release of the Smyrni follows the unexpected release of the chemical tanker Royal Grace and its 20 crew reported Saturday (below).
Over the weekend, India’s shipping minister GK Vasan leaked news of MT Smyrni’s pending release and was quoted by OneIndia News as saying:
“I am very happy to announce the release of the Indian seafarers. Due to coordinated actions of the Ministry of Shipping, External Affairs, Defence, Home Affairs, Director-General Shipping and other important agencies, yesterday we could get release of two vessels MV Royal Grace hijacked in March 2012 and MT Smrini hijacked in May 2012.”
The MT Smyrni is a Liberian-flagged Suezmax tanker managed by Dynacom Tankers Management Ltd. of Greece. The vessel was loaded with 135,000 MT of crude oil when it was hijacked in the Arabian in May 2012.
Current Figures on Somali Piracy (via EUNAVFOR):
Somali pirates currently hold the Malaysian-flagged MV ALBEDO with 15 crew and the Omani-flagged FV NAHAM 3 with 28 crew. The MV ALBEDO was taken November 25, 2010 and the NAHAM 3 was taken March 26, 2012.
In total Somali pirates are still holding 60 hostages, including 17 not belonging to a vessel.
Original (March 9, 2013):
BOSASSO, Somalia, March 9 (Reuters) – Somali pirates have released a chemical tanker they hijacked a year ago with about 20 crew on board after receiving a ransom, the pirates and a minister from the semi-autonomous Puntland region said on Saturday.
The pirates said they had abandoned the UAE-owned MV Royal Grace, which was seized off Oman on March 2 last year. “We got off the vessel late last night. We happily divided the cash among ourselves,” a pirate who identified himself only as Ismail told Reuters by telephone.
The European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce, EU Navfor, said its flagship, ESPS Mendez Nunez, had sighted the Royal Grace during a counter-piracy patrol 20 nautical miles off the northern Somali coast. The tanker was sailing north from its pirate anchorage at a speed of 4 knots.
“Shortly afterwards, ESPS Mendez Nunez received a radio call from the master of the MV Royal Grace, who confirmed that his ship was now free of pirates,” EU Navfor said.
A medical team boarded the tanker with food and water. The crew were checked over, with two being given medical treatment, the taskforce said in a statement.
It said the Royal Grace was now sailing to Muscat under escort from another EU Navfor warship, ESPS Rayo.
Civil war after the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 left Somalia without effective central government and full of weapons. The turmoil opened the doors for piracy to flourish in the Gulf of Aden and deeper into the Indian Ocean.
Said Mohamed Rage, minister of ports and anti-piracy for Puntland – a region in northeast Somalia – confirmed the ransom and the release of the Panama-registered Royal Grace.
It was not clear what cargo the tanker was carrying or who paid to free the vessel, but typically ship owners and the owners of cargo pay ransoms through insurance policies.
In 2011, Somali pirates preying on the waterways linking Europe with Africa and Asia netted $160 million and cost the world economy about $7 billion, according to U.S.-based think tank the One Earth Future foundation.
But the number of successful pirate attacks has since fallen dramatically as international navies have stepped up patrols to protect marine traffic and struck at pirate bases on the Somali coast, prompted by soaring shipping costs, including insurance.
Shipping firms have also increasingly deployed armed guards and laid out razor wire on their vessels to deter attacks.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in February granted an amnesty to hundreds of young Somali pirates in a attempt to draw them away from gangs responsible for hijackings and reduce the threat to shipping in the seas off the Horn of Africa state. (Writing by Richard Lough and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Pravin Char)
(c) 2013 Thomson Reuters, Click For Restrictions
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