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Somali pirates release 20 Filipinos

Somali pirates have freed 20 Filipino seamen from a hijacked ship that they held for more than 80 days, officials said.

world Updated: Oct 10, 2008 16:08 IST

Somali pirates have freed 20 Filipino seamen from a hijacked ship they held for more than 80 days, officials said on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government doubled the pay of sailors passing through pirate-infested international waters to compensate them for the dangers they face.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said that the 20 crewmen on the Japanese-operated bulk carrier Stella Maris seized in July were freed late on Thursday.

He said the sailors were "well and safe" and their ship was headed to Muscat, Oman.

He said 47 Filipinos on three other ships were still in the hands of Somali pirates.

Labor Secretary Marianito Roque, meanwhile, said the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration approved a resolution doubling the salary of Filipino sailors passing through dangerous waters. He said the agency also gave Filipino crewmen the option to disembark at the nearest safe port before their vessels sail through dangerous waters like the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's coast. Recruiting agencies and ship owners agreed to abide by the government's decision, he said.

More than 270,000 Filipinos work on foreign vessels, accounting for about one-third of the world's shipping crew. Vice President Noli de Castro said the Philippines has been hard hit by pirate attacks.

He urged the international community to respond to a call by the U.N. Security Council on all nations with a stake in maritime safety in Somalia to send naval vessels and military aircraft to confront pirates.

Government records showed that 117 Filipino crewmen have been seized by Somali pirates in 11 attacks since April. There were 20 Filipinos seized in one incident in 2006, and 10 in two attacks last year.

The pirates have released most of the hostages, including 15 from the Japanese-owned MT Irene late Wednesday.

It was not clear if a ransom was paid, but hostages in Somalia are usually freed in exchange for money.