GAROWE, Somalia, (Reuters) – Somali pirates have freed a Yemeni cargo ship they seized last week after successful talks between regional authorities, clan elders and the gunmen, a local official said on Wednesday.
A surge in attacks at sea this year in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia has pushed up insurance costs, brought the gangs tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and prompted foreign warships to rush to the area. “The Yemeni ship was released last night after long discussions,” Ali Abdi Aware, state minister of Somalia’s northern Puntland province, told Reuters. “It left Eyl and is heading to Yemen. The crew are safe and no ransom was paid.”
The MV Amani, owned by Yemeni shipping firm Abu Talal, has seven sailors on board. It was seized on Nov. 25 as it carried 507 tonnes of steel from Yemen’s Mukalla port to Socotra Island. Eyl is a remote former fishing village on the Puntland coast that has become well-defended base for the pirates. There have been nearly 100 attacks in Somali waters this year, despite the presence of several foreign warships. The sea gangs are holding about a dozen ships and nearly 300 crew.
Among the captured vessels are a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million of crude oil, the Sirius Star, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying some 30 Soviet-era tanks, the MV Faina.
On Tuesday, the U.N. Security Council renewed its authorisation for countries to use military force against the gunmen operating off the anarchic Horn of Africa nation.
The resolution extended for one year the right of nations with permission from Somalia’s interim government to enter Somali waters to pursue and attack pirates. The U.S.-drafted text was adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council.
France’s U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the move sent a very strong signal and would allow the European Union to begin an air and naval operation off Somalia on Dec. 8. That mission is expected to involve five to six ships at any given time, plus maritime surveillance aircraft.
Egypt is willing to take part in a U.N. force to tackle piracy “at any time”, a cabinet spokesman said.
A Greek ship freed by the pirates last week arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, on Wednesday. The MV Centauri was carrying salt and was hijacked in September. It was released on Nov. 28.
All its 26 Filipino crew members were safe but shaken. “Although they provided us food, the sound of the cocking guns and sight of them being pointed at us was a horrifying experience,” said junior officer Joland Besana. “Those were torturous and painful days that we’ll not forget very soon.”
The number of attacks at sea has increased this year as chaos has mounted onshore. Islamist rebels have been fighting the deeply divided interim government since the start of last year and have been advancing on the capital Mogadishu. But the Islamists are also split. At least three people were killed on Tuesday in the central town of Gurael as a moderate faction battled hardliners from al Shabaab, which Washington has listed as a terrorist group with links to al Qaeda.
Residents said the battle started after al Shabaab fighters arrested a Koranic teacher aligned with the moderate faction. “We are known to be Islamic scholars, but al Shabaab is forcing us to shoulder our guns,” Sheikh Hussein Aden, a member of the moderate group, told Reuters by phone from Gurael. “We are warning these pseudo-Muslims of al Shabaab to stop what they are doing or it will be a nationwide war.”