February 8, 2009 / 3:03 PM / in 9 years

Somali pirates say to free Chinese boat

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - Somali pirates will soon release a Chinese fishing vessel once they receive a $1.7 million ransom, one of the pirates holding the vessel said on Sunday.

Tianyu 8 was seized in November off the Kenyan coast. The crew included 15 Chinese, one Taiwanese, one Japanese, three Filipinos and four Vietnamese.

“The Chinese ship is about to be released and we are now waiting for the $1.7 million ransom as per our promise,” he told Reuters by telephone from the fishing village of Eyl.

“Negotiations are over and there is no problem. We are just waiting for the money to come.”

Earlier, Andrew Mwangura, an official of the East African Sea Farers Assistance Programme, had told Reuters the fishing boat was free.

The pirate said the gang holding the ship was confident of getting the ransom because a helicopter had hovered over the ship on Saturday, which appeared to be a sign that the money would be coming soon.

Pirates have been seizing vessels in the Gulf of Aden, which connects Europe to Asia and the Middle East via the Suez Canal, hijacking dozens of ships last year and taking tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

They released Ukrainian ship MV Faina this week. In the highest-profile capture, the gunmen seized the ship carrying 33 Soviet-era tanks that was headed for Kenya in September.

The piracy has triggered an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies including from China and the European Union.

Last month, China sent a naval mission consisting of a destroyer and four ships to help tackle the attacks. The ships have about 800 crew, including 70 special operations troops.

The U.S. Navy on January 8 also announced a new task force specifically dedicated to combating piracy in the region. The effort has lowered the frequency of successful hijackings, but on Thursday another tanker was hijacked.

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