3 Dec 2008

Pirates free Yemeni cargo ship without ransom

10:07 pm on 3 December 2008

Somali pirates have freed a Yemeni cargo ship they seized last week after successful talks between regional authorities, local 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 shipping lanes 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.

Ali Abdi Aware, state minister of Somalia's northern province of Puntland, said the ship was freed on Tuesday. The crew was safe and no ransom was paid.

The Amani, owned by Yemeni shipping firm Abu Talal, has seven sailors on board. It was seized on 25 November as it carried 507 tonnes of steel from Yemen's Mukalla port to Socotra Island.

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.

Captured vessels include a Saudi supertanker loaded with $US100 million of oil, the Sirius Star, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying some 30 Soviet-era tanks, the Faina.

On Tuesday, the United Nations 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 US-drafted text was adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council.

France's UN 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 Monday.

That mission is expected to involve five to six ships at any given time, plus maritime surveillance aircraft.