Somalia: pirates free Thai fishing boat

Published: March 8, 2010

NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali pirates freed a Thai fishing vessel they held for more than four months after receiving a ransom, the European Union Naval Force said Sunday, and French officials said their navy seized 11 suspected pirates elsewhere along Somalia’s coast.
The announcement from the French Defense Ministry brings the three-day take to a record 35 for the EU’s piracy-fighting operation in the region.
The ministry said the frigate Nivose — backed by the Italian logistics support ship Etna and a Spanish maritime patrol aircraft — took part in the capture in an unspecified part of the Indian Ocean off Somalia’s coast.
The ministry said in a statement the EU forces used helicopters and fired warning shots to stop and capture the “mother ship” and two accompanying skiffs of the suspected pirates on Sunday.
The Nivose was also involved in the capture of 22 pirates on Friday, and two on Saturday.
Also on Sunday, EU Naval Force spokesman Cmdr. John Harbour said pirates freed the Thai Union 3 for a ransom. He did not say how much pirates were paid to free the boat early Sunday, or where the freed ship may have been headed after its release.
The fishing boat was hijacked on October 29 in the Indian Ocean about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of the Seychelles and 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) from the Somali coast.
Lawlesness in Somalia has allowed piracy to flourish off Somalia’s 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) coastline. Somalia has not had a stable government since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
The EU naval force works to deter piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia’s coast and escorts ships carrying humanitarian aid. But the area is large and pirates have established many safe havens along the coast where they can hold ships for long periods of time.
The original Somali pirates were fishermen aggrieved over the huge foreign trawlers depleting their seas — a complaint the international community has yet to address despite pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-piracy patrols.
Huge ransoms lured criminal gangs into piracy, though, and ransom inflation has made it more expensive to buy the freedom of the more than 130 hostages still being held.
Last year, the average ransom was around $2 million, according to piracy expert Roger Middleton of the British think tank Chatham House. This year, two ransoms paid were around $3 million and $7 million, he said.

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