Somali pirates free Greek-owned ship after $2.3 million ransom is paid

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — A Liberian-flagged Greek-owned ship and its crew of 21 Filipinos who were held hostage by pirates for eight months have been released following the payment of a $2.3 million ransom, a Somali pirate said Friday.

Bile Hussein, a pirate based in Garacad in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia, said the brigands initially wanted to be paid $9 million after they captured the bulk carrier MV Free Goddess. Months of negotiations led to the lowering of the ransom and they released the ship on Thursday, Bile said.

The ship's owners, Free Bulkers SA, did not comment about the ransom payment claims but they confirmed that ship had been released and that all the 21 Filipino crew are well.

They said the ship was seized on Feb. 7, 2012 in the Arabian Sea carrying a consignment of steel coils from the Black Sea but they did not specify the destination or source of the cargo.

The Company didn't want to specify exactly what day the Liberian-flagged ship was released, "as she's still in dangerous waters."

Hijackings by Somali pirates have significantly reduced in the last couple of years because many ships now carry armed guards and there is an international naval armada that carries out onshore raids. In 2010, pirates seized 47 vessels, so far this year they've taken five, a decrease that could signify that the scourge is ending, though experts say it is too early to declare victory.

Pirates still hold six ships and 156 crew members. At the height of Somali piracy, pirates held more than 30 ships and 600 hostages at a time.

The overwhelming majority of hostages have been sailors on merchant ships, though European families have also been seized while traveling in the dangerous coastal waters. Four Americans were killed in February 2011 when the pirates who boarded their ship apparently became trigger-happy because of nearby U.S. warships.

For the pirates, the risks of being arrested, killed or lost at sea are overshadowed by the potential for huge payouts. Ransoms for large ships in recent years have averaged close to $5 million. The largest reported ransom was $11 million for the Greek oil tanker MV Irene SL last year.

The ransoms are often air-dropped down to hijacked ships.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since longtime dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords in 1991 who then turned on each other.

Somalia's inland conflict has helped piracy flourish on the waters off the horn of Africa.