Somali pirates free crew


Somali pirates have released the 10-man crew of a Belgian dredging vessel captured in mid-April after a ransom was paid, Belgian authorities confirmed today.

"The ship and the crew were released at 0543 CET. The men are in good health," Interior Minister Guido De Padt told a news conference.

The Belgian federal crisis centre declined to say how much was paid to the pirates, saying they had initially demanded $8 million. A ransom was paid by the shipowners.

A pirate who gave his name as Mohamed Ali had earlier said a ransom of $2.8 million had been agreed on.

The vessel was taken on April 18 en route to South Africa, with two Belgians, four Croatians, one Dutchman and three Filipinos on board. It was due to stock up on fuel in the Seychelles.

The Somali gangs, who have been marauding in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean for several years, are still holding a dozen other boats, with nearly 200 crew members, latest figures from the International Maritime Bureau showed.

They have seized 31 boats so far this year in 143 attacks, compared to 42 in 111 raids throughout last year.