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Somali pirates free Russian ship - local official

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

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BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - Somali pirates have released a Russian ship captured off the Horn of Africa last month, after a $700,000 ransom was paid, a local official said on Tuesday.


Operating in Somalia's northern region of Puntland, the pirates took hostage four Russian crew members, an Irish chief engineer and a British captain when they seized the Svitzer Korsakov on its maiden voyage in February. The ice-class tug vessel was making its way to Russia's Pacific Coast.


"We have been informed by our intelligence sources that the money was brought by another ship, we don't know what country that ship was from," Ahmed Saed Ow-Nur, Puntland's minister for fisheries and marine resources, told Reuters.


Piracy has been rife in the waters off Somalia since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. But attacks have reached unprecedented levels due to instability onshore as the interim government battles insurgents.


The U.S. State Department calls Somalia the "preferred venue for pirate attacks in the region.


"We believe the pirates are now hiding in Puntland and our security forces will hunt them down and bring them to justice," Ow-Nur said.


Semi-autonomous Puntland's reputation for relative stability has been marred by a spate of piracy, hijackings and kidnappings -- often for ransom. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)


Source: Reuters, March 18, 2008

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