Somali Pirates Free 2 Hijacked Ships With 26 Crew Members

Saturday, April 7th 2007, 9:21 pm

By: News On 6

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Somali pirates have freed two hijacked merchant ships, including one that had just delivered U.N. food aid when it was seized more than a month ago with 12 crew on board, a maritime official said Saturday.

The ships, the U.N.-chartered MV Rozen and the Indian-flagged MV Nimatullah, were sailing out of Somali waters, said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program. Both were released late Friday.

``All the crew are safe aboard both vessels,'' said Mwangura.

Mwangura said a ransom had been paid but he did not have details.

The MV Rozen had just dropped off more than 1,800 tons of food aid in the semiautonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia when it was hijacked Feb. 25. Six of its crew members were from Sri Lanka and six from Kenya.

The Indian-flagged MV Nimatullah, with 14 crew on board, was carrying more than 800 tons of cargo, including cooking oil, secondhand clothing and rice, when it was seized Monday.

The World Food Program welcomed the release of the MV Rozen.

``The threat of piracy is, however, very much alive and we urge the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the Puntland authorities to curb this menace,'' said Peter Goossens, the WFP country director for Somalia.

Both vessels still remain in danger until they are out of the 12-mile territorial limit of Somali waters, Mwangura said. The Rozen was headed for Mombasa, Kenya. The MV Nimatullah's destination was unclear. Its Dubai-based owner, Issa Bhata, could not be reached for comment.

It was also unclear whether any of the pirates that hijacked the ships had been detained.

The British-based International Maritime Bureau warned Wednesday there had been a marked increase in pirate attacks in Somali waters.

``Vessels are advised to steer well clear of Somalian waters at all times and only approach once full clearance to enter the port has been received,'' the organization said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Somalia has had no effective government since warlords ousted a dictatorship in 1991, and its 1,880-mile coast has emerged as one of the most dangerous areas for ships.

Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.

In 2005, two ships carrying WFP aid were overwhelmed by pirates. The number of overall reported at-sea hijackings that year was 35, compared with two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The bandits target both passenger and cargo vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons.

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