Somali pirates release 21 Burmese sailors

A Norwegian chemical tanker hijacked in March this year with 21 Burmese sailors on board has been released after ransom was delivered to Somali pirates.

The ransom was negotiated between the Broevigtank company, which owns the UBT Ocean, and the pirates, according to Sithu Thwin from the Singapore-based Ship Management Association.

Hundreds of pirating rackets are thought to operate off the precarious eastern coast of Africa, mainly in the Gulf of Aden close to Somalia, which fell into anarchy nearly two decades ago and has since been governed only by a flimsy transitional government, which has given rise to lawlessness both in the country and in its waters.

The Norwegian ship was however hijacked close to Madagascar whilst en route to Tanzania from the UAE. An EU anti-piracy mission had been tracking the ship after its hijacking, and then believed that all crew members on board were Burmese.

Sithu Thwin refused to disclose the amount of ransom handed over, but the demands from pirates operating in the region are rarely meagre: in January the owners of a hijacked Greek-flagged oil tanker dropped a payment of US$7 million onto the deck of the ship.

The pirates holding the Burmese sailors released the ship two days after the ransom was paid, Sithu Thwin said. The ship left the Madagascan coast on Tuesday and is due to reach an agreed, but undisclosed, location tomorrow.

“All 21 sailors are in good health – we received their photos,” Sithu Thwin said. “Now they are heading to a specific destination point and we will go and wait for them [there]. We will give them items they need and moral support.

“We will give them necessary medical check-up before sending them back to Burma in one or two days. The ship will be arriving at the port in one or two days and we will replace the crews, repair the ship and then it will head to its [initial] drop-off point.”

He said the sailors’ families have been informed of their release.

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