5 Somali pirates drown with ransom share
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Five of the pirates who hijacked a Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a $3 million ransom, a relative said Saturday, the day after the bundle of cash was apparently dropped by parachute onto the deck of the ship.
The Sirius Star and its 25 crew sailed safely away Friday at the end of a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden, where pirates attacked over 100 ships last year. Hundreds more kidnapped sailors remain in the hands of pirates.
The drowned pirates' boat overturned in rough seas, and family members were still looking for four missing bodies, said Daud Nure, another pirate who knew the men involved.
Piracy is one of the few ways to make money in Somalia. Half the population is dependent on aid and a whole generation has grown up knowing nothing but war. A recent report by London's Chatham House think-tank 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 both 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.
Abukar Haji, uncle of one of the dead pirates, blamed the naval surveillance for the accident that killed his pirate nephew Saturday.
"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," he said.
"There has been human and monetary loss but what makes us feel sad is that we don't still have the dead bodies of our relatives. Four are still missing and one washed up on the shore."
Pirate Daud Nure said three of the eight passengers had managed to swim to shore after the boat overturned in rough seas. He was not part of the pirate operation but knew those involved.
"Here in Haradhere the news is grim, relatives are looking for their dead," he said.
The tanker had left Somali territorial waters and was on its way home Saturday, said Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi. 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 official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The U.S. Navy, which announced this week it will head a new anti-piracy 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. Neither commented on the reported ransom drop.
"All the crew members are safe and I am glad to say that they are all in good health and high spirits," said a statement by Saleh K'aki, president and CEO of Vela. "Throughout this ordeal, our sole objective was the safe and timely release of the crew. That has been achieved today."
But over a dozen ships and around 300 crew members are still being held. The capture of the Sirius Star has already demonstrated the pirates' ability to strike high value targets hundreds of miles offshore.
On the same day the Saudi ship was freed, pirates released a captured Iranian-chartered cargo ship, Iran's state television reported Saturday. 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 are in good health and the vessel is sailing toward Iran, the TV report said. It did not say if a ransom was paid.