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Pirates free ship, hold crew for swap

Somali pirates have released a ship they held hostage for the last seven months and eight of its 15-member all-Indian crew but are holding on to the remaining seven till India releases all arrested pirates. Zia Haq and Debobrat Ghose report.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2011 01:21 IST
Zia Haq and Debobrat Ghose

Somali pirates have released a ship they held hostage for the last seven months and eight of its 15-member all-Indian crew but are holding on to the remaining seven till India releases all arrested pirates.

The pirates released the Indian-owned Asphalt Venture late on Friday, apparently after a ransom of $3 million (Rs 14 crore approximately) was paid.

The Indian Navy has, of late, mounted an aggressive vigil on shipping lanes off East Africa and “has so far seized about 100 pirates and handed them over to the police”, according to navy spokesperson PVS Satish.

“We are holding the Indian nationals to exchange for our colleague prisoners that the Indian government is holding,” a pirate told Reuters from the pirate stronghold of Harardhere, off the Somalia coast.

The government is believed to have advised the Asphalt Venture’s owners to open a second round of negotiations. “The shipping company is trying to get in touch with the pirates to see what their demands are and why the seamen were not released despite the pay-off. We are concerned about the safety of our men,” shipping secretary K Mohandas told HT.

An official of Mumbai-based OMCI Shipping Management, which owns the ship, said the pirates returned the vessel after the pay-off but took away the seven to the mainland. The Asphalt Ventura was hijacked on September 28 last year.

Piracy is a multimillion-dollar criminal enterprise with ransoms averaging $4-$5 million, says the International Merchant Shipping Confederation.