Somali pirates have freed a hijacked South Korean-operated supertanker and its 24 crew after seven months of captivity, officials said Sunday amid reports that a record ransom was paid.
The Samho Dream was sailing toward a safe third country under the escort of a South Korean destroyer after being released Saturday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Its 24 crew – five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos – were all safe, ministry officials said.
The 300,000-ton tanker, loaded with about $160 million in crude oil, was sailing from Iraq to the U.S. state of Louisiana when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in early April.
The release came after the tanker’s operator – South Korea-based Samho Shipping – paid a ransom to the pirates, company official Cho Yong-woo said. The ship is owned by a company subsidiary in Singapore, he said.
Samho Shipping and Foreign Ministry officials declined to disclose exactly how much ransom was paid, but South Korean media, including the Yonhap news agency, reported that a ransom of $9 million to $9.5 million was paid to secure the ship’s release.
Yonhap said the amount was the largest ever to be given to Somali pirates. It cited Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, as saying the pirates earlier demanded $20 million.
Similar seizures of oil supertankers in the waters off the coast of Somalia have yielded ransoms as high as $5.5 million in the past.
Samho Shipping chief Sohn Yong-ho told reporters that the ship’s captain called him after his release and said the crude oil was in relatively good condition, Yonhap reported.
Also on Saturday, the European Union Naval Force said the Singapore-flagged MV Golden Blessing was released by pirates. The EU force said the chemical tanker was seized on June 28 off Somalia’s coast and has a crew of 19 Chinese. The statement gave no further details.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Piracy has flourished off its coast, sometimes yielding multimillion-dollar ransoms.
Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.