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Pirates release crew after getting ransom

SOMALI pirates have released the entire crew of a Belgian ship seized 10 weeks ago after a ransom was paid, the Belgian government said yesterday.

The 10-member crew of the Pompei dredger was in good health and was sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor, the government said. The crew members will then fly home.

Belgian Defense Minister Pieter De Crem said that the ship's owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded US$8 million.

A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel on Saturday, De Crem said. About 10 pirates on board abandoned the ship early yesterday.

The ship, its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians were seized on April 18 a few hundred kilometers north of the Seychelles islands as they were sailing from Dubai to South Africa.

The pirates took the ship to the Somali coast where they and the crew stayed on board.

Belgian officials said the ship's owners negotiated the release with a middleman who sometimes passed on messages from the captain.

The pirates even contacted the crew's family members once to prove that they were still alive.

De Crem said the government had considered military intervention to seize the ship, but decided that it was "not desirable" because it could endanger the crew's lives.

Despite international navy patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia's 3,060-kilometer coastline. Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years.

Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August.


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