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AFR: Ship captain says million-dollar ransom paid to pirates

14 Mar 2009 4:58 AM

MOMBASA, Kenya, March 13 AFP - The captain of an Egyptian ship released last week after two months in the hands of Somali pirates said on Friday that a ransom of $US1 million ($A1.53 million) was paid.

"The owner of the ship, Abderrahman al-Awwa, negotiated with the pirates who demanded six million dollars but they finally settled for one million dollars," Mahmud Swidan told reporters in Mombasa.

The MV Blue Star and its Egyptian crew of 28 seamen were freed on March 4 and docked in the Kenyan port earlier Friday.

Somali pirates marauding in the Gulf of Aden, a critical channel for world maritime trade where thousands of vessels bottleneck into the Red Sea on their way to the Suez canal each year, attacked the Blue Star and its cargo of 6,000 tonnes of fertiliser on New Year's Day.

"I thank God I am alive. A bullet fired by the pirates missed me by a whisker," Swidan said.

The Egyptian-owned ship was flying the flag of the Caribbean island territory of St Kitts and Nevis when it was hijacked.

Andrew Mwangura, of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, said in a statement that another ship narrowly escaped being hijacked on Wednesday off the coast of Kenya.

"One white skiff with an unknown number of gunmen came within 100 metres of the vessel and fired machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades," he said.

"The alert merchant mariners took appropriate anti-piracy measures and escaped but sustained minor damage to the vessel and one crew member was injured," Mwangura added.

Since the surge in hijackings by ransom-hunting Somali pirates in 2007, most attacks have been carried out in the Gulf of Aden by groups operating out of the northern breakaway state of Puntland.

Increased navy presence in the area however has encouraged some pirate groups to hunt ships further out at sea.

Despite a slight drop in attacks in recent weeks, Somali pirates still hold at least nine ships and more than 130 crew for ransom, Mwangura said.