Somali pirates release Panama-flagged ship amid ransom reports

Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:36pm GMT

HARGEISA, April 12 (Reuters) - Somali pirates have released a Panama-flagged vessel they seized two months ago allowing it to continue on its way to the breakaway enclave of Somaliland, the ship's agent and a government official said on Thursday.

Pirates hijacked the MV Leila in February near Oman, seizing the ship with its cargo of goods and cars, and then sailing it to the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in Somalia.

The vessel was en route to Somaliland at the time and the pirates said they would impound it until fellow pirates being held in the enclave's jails were released.

On Thursday, Mohamed Osman, the head of Somaliland's anti-piracy task force, told Reuters the ship had been released.

"I have spoken to Omar Apocar, Deputy Manager of the Port of Berbera, who has confirmed to me that the ship has been released in Bosasso and will most probably anchor in Berbera tonight," he said, referring to Somaliland's port city.

Ahmed Farah Mohamed, the ship's Somali agent in Berbera, told Reuters the release took place when a ransom was paid after talks among local elders, businessmen and shipping agents.

"It took almost a month of negotiations by a committee of seven people ... and a down payment of $250,000 ransom, for the pirates to release the ship. The ship is expected to arrive at Berbera port in the next few days," he said.

The payment of a ransom could not immediately be verified - Osman said the authorities in Somaliland had a policy of not paying ransoms.

"I have no official information on money changing hands. The official view of Somaliland is that no ransom should be paid," he said.   Continued...

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