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MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates said on Sunday they would lower some of their ransom demands to get a faster turnover of ships they hijack in the Indian Ocean.
Armed pirate gangs, who have made millions of dollars capturing ships as far south as the Seychelles and eastwards towards India, said they were holding too many vessels and needed a quicker handover to generate more income.
"I believe there is no excuse for taking high ransoms. At least each of our groups holds ships now," pirate Hussein told Reuters from Hobyo on the Somalian coast. He said the pirates were holding more than 30 ships at the moment.
"We have lowered the ransom only for the ships we have used to hijack other ships. We sometimes release these ships free of charge for they generate more (money). But we shall not lower the ransom for the bulk ships we are sure can bring bulk money."
Using captured merchant vessels as launchpads for new hijackings, the pirates have grown bolder despite a loosely coordinated global response, and insurance premiums for shipping lines have rocketed.
Pirates hold seized ships for an average of up to 150 days before freeing them for ransoms, some as high as $9.5 million for the release of Samho Dream, a South Korean oil supertanker.
Abdullahi, another pirate, said any decrease in ransom would be calculated by the ship's value, its cargo and the length of time it had been held.
"We have changed our previous strategies. We have altered our operations and ransom deals with modern business deals," he said from the port town of Haradhere.
"We want to free ships within a short period of time instead of keeping them for a long time and incurring more expenses in guarding them. We have to free them at a lower ransom so that we can hijack more ships."
Attacks have grown since 2007 when young Somalis in small skiffs with AK-47s and rocket propelled grenades took to the water is to seek their fortunes.
But since late February, the pirates have had to share their spoils with the Al Shabaab Islamist rebels, who profess loyalty to al Qaeda. The insurgents -- who have been waging a four-year insurrection against the country's Western-backed government -- struck a deal to get a 20 percent cut of ransoms in Haradhere.
Pirates said the rebels had no say in their plan.
"Al Shabaab has nothing to do with our plan to lower ransoms. We agreed on a fixed 20 percent cut. Low or high ransom, the agreement is fixed," said Abdullahi.