5 Somali pirates drown with share of $3m ransom

By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Associated Press / January 11, 2009
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MOGADISHU, Somalia - Five of the pirates that hijacked a Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a $3 million ransom, a relative said yesterday, the day after the bundle of cash was apparently dropped by parachute onto the deck of the ship.

The Sirius Star and its crew of 25 sailed safely away Friday at the end of a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden, where pirates attacked over more than ships last year.

Hundreds more kidnapped sailors remain in the hands of pirates.

Abukar Haji, uncle of one of the dead men, blamed the naval surveillance for the accident that killed his pirate nephew yesterday.

"The boat the pirates were traveling in capsized because it was running at high speed because the pirates were afraid of an attack from the warships patrolling around," Haji said. He said one of the bodies washed ashore, and four are missing.

Pirate Daud Nure said three of the eight passengers swam to shore after the boat overturned in rough seas.

He was not part of the pirate operation, but knew those involved.

The tanker had left Somali territorial waters and was on its way home yesterday, said Ali Naimi, Saudi Arabian oil minister . A Saudi Oil Ministry official said the ship was headed for Dammam, on the country's Gulf coast, but gave no estimated time of arrival.

The US Navy, which announced last week it will head a new antipiracy task force, released photos Friday showing a parachute, carrying what was described as "an apparent payment," floating down toward the tanker.

The Liberian-flagged ship is owned by Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi oil company Aramco.

More than a dozen other ships and about 300 crew members are still being held. The capture of the Sirius Star has demonstrated the pirates' ability to strike high-value targets hundreds of miles offshore.

Piracy is one of the few ways to make money in Somalia. Half the population is dependent on aid, and a generation has grown up knowing nothing but war. A recent think-tank report said pirates raked in more than $30 million in ransoms last year.

Somalia's lawless coastline borders one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Attacks have continued despite the patrols by warships from France, Germany, Britain, America, India, and China.

The naval coalition has been closely monitoring the Sirius Star and the Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with military tanks that has been held since September.

The seizure of the Sirius Star on Nov. 15 prompted fears that the pirates might release some of the cargo of crude oil into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster as a way of pressuring negotiators.

At the time, the oil was valued at $100 million.

On the day the Saudi ship was freed, pirates released a captured Iranian-chartered cargo ship, Iran's state television reported yesterday.

The ship Delight was carrying 36 tons of wheat when it was attacked in the Gulf of Aden Nov. 18 and seized by pirates. All 25 crew members are in good health and the vessel is sailing toward Iran, the TV report said.

It did not say if a ransom was paid.

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