|BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somali pirates have released a Russian ship captured off the Horn of Africa last month, after a $700,000 ransom was paid, a local official said on Tuesday.Operating in Somalia’s northern region of Puntland, the pirates took hostage four Russian crew members, an Irish chief engineer and a British captain when they seized the Svitzer Korsakov on its maiden voyage in February. The ice-class tug vessel was making its way to Russia’s Pacific Coast.
“We have been informed by our intelligence sources that the money was brought by another ship, we don’t know what country that ship was from,” Ahmed Saed Ow-Nur, Puntland’s minister for fisheries and marine resources, told Reuters.
The Russian owners of the vessel said in a statement that all crew members were well and unharmed. It did not mention any ransom and said it would be irresponsible to give details of contacts with the hijackers.
“Any such details provided in the public domain would, we believe, encourage would-be pirates and add further danger to the victims of such attacks,” the company, Svitzer, said.
Piracy has been rife in the waters off Somalia since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. But attacks have reached unprecedented levels due to instability onshore as the interim government battles insurgents.
The U.S. State Department calls Somalia the “preferred venue” for pirate attacks in the region.
“We believe the pirates are now hiding in Puntland and our security forces will hunt them down and bring them to justice,” Ow-Nur said. Semi-autonomous Puntland’s reputation for relative stability has been marred by a spate of piracy, hijackings and kidnappings — often for ransom.ABDI HERSI GORGOR NEWS GAROWE