RIYADH, (AFP) – A Saudi insurance company is to pay Somali pirates a 20-million-dollar ransom to free a hijacked ship and its 14-member crew held hostage for five months, a newspaper reported on Monday.
The owner of the Al-Nisr Al-Saudi ship, which was hijacked by Somali pirates, said the insurance company has agreed to pay a ransom of 20 million dollars to win the release of the ship and its 14-member crew,” Arab News said.
The pirates had been torturing the crew of 13 Sri Lankans and one Greek as well as threatening to kill them unless the ransom was paid, the daily quoted the ship’s owner, Kamal Arri, as saying.
Arri said his company was waiting for the Saudi government’s approval “to allow the quick payment of the ransom by the insurance company.”
“The consulates of Sri Lanka and Greece have been contacting us, inquiring about the safety of crew members,” he said in the English-language daily.
The tanker, he added, was not carrying any oil when the pirates captured it in the Gulf of Aden in March as it sailed back from Japan to the Saudi port of Jeddah.
Arri said his company had so far lost about eight million dollars as a result of the hijacking.
Arab states of the Gulf and Red Sea said last year they are planning a joint anti-piracy force, insisting defence of the crucial Red Sea waterway was the “primary responsibility” of littoral states.
Foreign naval powers have since 2008 deployed dozens of warships in a bid to secure the Gulf, a crucial maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which tens of thousands of merchant vessels transit each year.
But pirates have gradually extended their area of operations, seizing ships as far east as the Maldives’ territorial waters and as far south as the Canal of Mozambique.
Naval missions, including the European Union’s Atalanta deployment, have boasted success in curbing attacks but the number of hijacked ships and detained seafarers remains at one of its highest levels since Somali piracy surged in 2007.
Unofficial figures show 2009 was the most prolific year yet for Somali pirates, with more than 200 attacks — including 68 successful hijackings — and a total in ransoms believed to exceed 50 million dollars.