MOGADISHU - Somali pirates freed a Greek-flagged tanker carrying 2million barrels of oil yesterday, a day after the biggest ransom ever paid was dropped on to its deck, the pirates and a maritime official said.
The Maran Centaurus was seized on November 29 last year with 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and a Romanian on board. An aircraft dropped a ransom believed to be between $5,5million (R40,7million) and $7million (R52million) on to the vessel on Sunday, officials said.
"We have agreed to solve our disagreements and release the ship. It is free and sailing away now," one of the pirates, Hassan, said. "The crew are all safe."
Another pirate and a regional maritime official confirmed that the tanker, hijacked near the Seychelles archipelago in the Indian Ocean, was freed yesterday.
The ransom dwarfed sums paid previously for vessels held by Somali sea gangs. A dispute between two rival pirate groups over the spoils had delayed its release.
On Sunday pirates on board the tanker and rivals in speedboats fired at each other in a tussle for control of the vessel before the ransom was due to be delivered.
The pirates in the speedboats had threatened to set fire to the vessel unless they received a share of the spoils.
Pirates on another hijacked ship nearby and local elders onshore said helicopters from Western navies patrolling the waters off Somalia fired at the speedboats, driving them from the area before the cash was dropped.
A $3million (R22million) ransom was paid for the release of another oil tanker, the Sirius Star, in January last year. Similar ransoms have been paid subsequently for the release of merchant vessels.
Worldwide piracy attacks rose to about 40 last year, with Somali pirates accounting for more than half of the 406 reported incidents, according to the International Maritime Bureau. - Reuters