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Pirates free tanker and crew after five months

SOMALI pirates freed a chemical tanker and its 23 Filipino crew members yesterday after holding them hostage in the Gulf of Aden for more than five months.

The release came a day after a separate group of bandits freed the Lebanese-owned food aid freighter MV Sea Horse after receiving US$100,000 from Somali businessmen.

The Philippine company Sagana Shipping Inc declined to say whether it paid any ransom for the release of its ship, MT Stolt Strength.

Securing the safe release of the vessel and crew was "difficult and protracted" and the company was "extremely pleased" with the result, Sagana spokesman Dexter Custodio said.

Doris Deseo, wife of Carlo Deseo, the ship's 31-year-old third mate, said: "They are no longer in the hands of the pirates. I am super happy. That's the only thing we have been waiting for."

The Stolt Strength was seized on November 10 in the Gulf of Aden while it was carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid from Dakar, Senegal, to Kandla, India, Custodio said.

Family members of the crew said the Somali pirates had demanded US$5 million but the amount had been reduced to about US$2.2 million last week.

Custodio said he could not comment on whether a ransom was paid. "I have no idea because it was the company's crisis management team that has the data about that," he said.

A NATO spokesman said the ship would head to Mombasa, Kenya, arriving in about a week. One crew member needed medical attention, but was not in a serious condition.

"The main concern now is to refuel the ship," a spokesman said.

Eduardo Malaya, spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said the ship was released late yesterday morning and was heading to "safer waters" under escort by international ships.

Asuncion Pacheco, wife of 62-year-old captain Abelardo Pacheo, said she was told by a company official that the ransom paid to the pirates "will not be disclosed for the protection of the others," referring to other vessels still held by Somali gunmen.


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