Somali pirates have received what is believed to be a record ransom of $9.5m for the release of a South Korean oil supertanker. The Samho Dream was hijacked in the Indian Ocean in April, and its 24-strong crew taken hostage.
Andrew Mwangura, the co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said the ransom paid for the Samho Dream would be the highest paid to the pirates since they started hijacking vessels in recent years. He confirmed that the supertanker had been freed, but was still in Somali waters. The crew are all believed to be safe.
The pirates had demanded $20m, Mr Mwangura said. "What I can confirm is that negotiators tell me they agreed to make the drop with an amount in excess of $9m," he added.
The Samho Dream, which can carry more than 2 million barrels of crude oil, has a crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos. It had been carrying oil worth $170m from Iraq to the United States. One pirate, who gave his name as Ali, told Reuters: "We received an amount of $9.5m early in the morning. Now we are dividing the ransom and will abandon the ship [soon]."
Somalia has lacked an effective central government for almost two decades and is awash with weapons. Piracy is booming in the strategic waterways off its shores linking Europe to Asia and Africa. Hijacked vessels are taken to the Somali coast and held until money is paid. Negotiations can take months.
A Singapore-registered ship, with 19 Chinese sailors on board, has also been released. The Golden Blessing was hijacked in June in the Gulf of Aden. A ransom of nearly $2.8m is reported to have been paid.
Somali pirates currently hold 28 vessels, with more than 494 hostages, Mr Mwangura said.