Somali pirates release Greek tanker

Al Jazeera English

Posted at Jan 18 2010 05:55 PM | Updated as of Jan 19 2010 08:13 AM

DOHA, Qatar - Somali pirates have released a Greek-flagged oil tanker after receiving millions of dollars in ransom.

Sources from among the pirates on Monday confirmed that the Maran Centaurus, one of the largest ships ever hijacked, had been freed.

The pirates agreed to release the vessel after an aircraft dropped at least five million dollars in ransom on the deck.

The ransom, one of the largest ever paid, appeared to have sparked a feud among the priates, delaying the release of the ship.

But Andrew Mwangura, from the East African seafarers assistance programme, said that the vessel had finally been freed on Monday.

"She's free. She's preparing to sail out," he said.

Ransom payment

Hassan, one of the pirates, told the Reuters news agency: "We have agreed to solve our disagreements and release the ship. It is free and sailing away now."

He said that its crew of 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and a Romanian were all safe.

The ransom, delivered on Sunday, was believed to be between $5.5m and $7m.

A $3m ransom was paid for the release of another oil tanker, the Sirius Star, in January 2009. Similar ransoms have been paid subsequently for the release of merchant vessels.

The Maran Centaurus, carrying two million barrels of oil, was captured in November on its way from Kuwait to the US.

World powers, including the European Union, Nato and the United States are running naval patrols off the Somali coast in an effort to protect commercial shipping.

In response, the pirates have extended their reach, attacking ships up to 1,800km from Somalia, deep in the Indian Ocean.