UPDATE 3-Somali pirates release hijacked ship, crew without ransom
(Updates with ship released)
By Abdiqani Hassan
BOSASSO, March 16 (Reuters) - Somali pirates released a hijacked oil tanker and its eight Sri Lankan crew on Thursday, a Somali security official and the pirates said, bringing the first hijacking since 2012 to an unusually swift conclusion without the payment of a ransom.
The release followed a gunfight earlier in the day between the pirates and the marine force, and then intensive negotiations between the marine force, clan elders and the pirates.
"There has been discussion going on after the gunfight of this afternoon ... We pulled our forces back and so the pirates went away," said Abdirahman Mohamud Hassan, the director general of the maritime police force for Somalia's semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.
A pirate confirmed the release was made without a ransom payment. In previous hijackings, many crews remained in captivity for years before a ransom was paid. Eight Iranians are still being held.
But the pirates said they agreed to forego a ransom after learning that Somali businessmen had hired the ship, which was taking oil from Djibouti to the Somali capital of Mogadishu. Pirates have traditionally been wary of tangling with Somalia's powerful businessmen.
"After we came to know that the Somali traders hired the oil tanker, we released it without a ransom," pirate Abdullahi told Reuters.
The release will be seen as a success for the regional Puntland government and its counter-piracy force, which is funded by the United Arab Emirates. Continued...