Kidnapped sailors hope for Somali release

Nearly two dozen Burmese sailors kidnapped by Somali pirates off the coast of Tanzania last year may be freed in the next month, according to a source in the Myanmar Overseas Seafarers Association (MOSA).

The men have been held since December when their ship, the MV-MSC Panama, was boarded by pirates as it navigated the east African coastline. Twenty-three Burmese sailors were among the crew taken hostage.

Rumours had circulated that they would be freed back in April, but nothing materialised. Then at the end of April, a Singaporean ship, M.T Gemini, was kidnapped by pirates with three Burmese nationals on board.

The MOSA source told DVB that a leadership change within that particular Somali gang had scuppered the April release date for the 23, but that hopes were high they would be let go within a month.

To date four ships carrying Burmese sailors have been hijacked, although no casualities have been reported: in March last year a Norwegian chemical tanker was hijacked with 21 Burmese sailors on board, and then released after a ransom was paid.

Details of the amount of money handed over were not disclosed, but the demands from pirates operating in the region are rarely meagre: in January last year the owners of a hijacked Greek-flagged oil tanker dropped a payment of $US7 million onto the deck of the ship.

The MOSA source said that a ransom was being negotiated, but did not give any details.

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.

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