* Pirates say they were paid $13.5 million
* All crew safe and in good health
* Piracy “out of control” - industry
(Adds ship industry, analyst comment, detail)
By Lefteris Papadimas and Mohamed Ahmed
ATHENS/MOGADISHU, April 8 (Reuters) - Somali pirates have freed a Greek-owned oil tanker seized two months ago off Oman, the Greek coastguard and pirates said on Friday.
Shipping industry sources welcomed the news but said pirate attacks were getting out of control in the region, threatening international trade.
Analysts say more than 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea and is at risk from pirate gangs.
The Greek-owned and flagged 319,000-dwt tanker, Irene SL, with seven Greeks, 17 Filipinos and one Georgian aboard, was one of three oil tankers hijacked by pirates this year.
The tanker’s Greece-based manager, Enesel, said the tanker was released on Thursday but declined to say if a ransom was paid or give any detail on the release for security reasons.
The pirates told Reuters they received a ransom payment of $13.5 million before freeing the vessel.
“We received the agreed ransom amount of $13.5 million... The ship has sailed away,” a pirate who gave his name as Abdiwali said by phone from Lebed, a village on Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast near Hobyo, a pirate lair.
“Somali pirates have freed the tanker ‘Irene SL’ which had been captured on Feb 9 while sailing with crude oil 200 nautical miles off the coast of Oman,” the coastguard statement said.
“According to the owner, the crew of 25, of whom seven are Greeks, are well and the ship continues on its voyage to Durban, South Africa,” it added.
Pirates gangs, who are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, are able to stay out at sea for longer periods and in tougher weather conditions, by hijacking commercial ships and using them as motherships to launch attacks.
“Hijacked oil tankers have tended to be released for larger ransoms. Not only is the cargo seen as valuable, but the political weight of an oil tanker is also seen as high value,” said John Drake, senior risk consultant with security firm AKE.
The U.S.-bound vessel was carrying about 2 million barrels of Kuwaiti crude, worth $200 million at market prices when it was seized.
Irene SL’s crude oil cargo represented 20 percent of total U.S. daily crude oil imports, or 5 percent of total daily world seaborne oil supply, said INTERTANKO, an association whose members own the majority of the world’s tanker fleet.
Despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, navies have been unable to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean because of the vast distances involved.
INTERTANKO welcomed the release of the Irene SL and its crew but said no ship was safe in the Indian Ocean from the risk of attack, with crews also increasingly facing torture by gangs.
“Piracy is out of control,” said INTERTANKO chairman Graham Westgarth. “International trade is threatened. Governments need to protect the world’s shipping lanes by showing political will, not political indifference.” (Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Athens and Jonathan Saul in London, editing by Paul Taylor and Andrew Heavens)