Somali pirates have released a hijacked Greek-owned tanker with all 19 crew safe and the oil cargo intact, Greece`s Merchant Marine Ministry said Saturday. The ship`s management company said a ransom was paid but did not say how much, according to CNN.
The Liberian-flagged tanker MV Genius, seized Sept. 26, was released Friday and is about 500 miles (800 kilometers) off Somalia on its way to the United Arab Emirates, ministry spokesman Constantine Gialelis said.
The pirates had seized the 6,765 gross-ton vessel in the Gulf of Aden near the Horn of Africa, waters that have become highly dangerous for shipping.
Gialelis said the Georgian, Sri Lankan and Syrian crew was safe.
A representative of Piraeus-based Mare Shipmanagement, the tanker`s management company, told The Associated Press that the pirates had contacted the owners right after the ship was hijacked and had demanded a ransom.
"Our primary concern is the safety of the ship and its crew. ... They released it when ransom was paid," Ctesiphon Koukoulas told the AP by telephone, without specifying the amount.
He said he could not divulge details because of safety concerns for the crews of other ships held by pirates in the area. At least one other Greek-owned ship is held there.
In the past two weeks, Somalia`s increasingly brazen pirates have seized eight vessels including a huge Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star, loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil. Several hundred crew are now in the hands of Somali pirates. The pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somali coast and negotiate for ransom.
Koukoulas, whose company manages five ships, said the pirates keep the ships they hijack "at a secure location" on the Somali coast. The cargo vessels crossing the busy seaway were advised by warships patrolling the area on what route to take but "the best one can do is pray that it doesn`t happen to them," he said.
Saudi Arabia`s foreign minister said Friday that the Saudi government was not negotiating with pirates and would not do so, but that what the ship`s owners did was up to them.
The same day, a radical Islamic group in Somalia said ships belonging to Muslim countries should not be seized and that it would fight the pirates holding the Saudi supertanker.
NATO has four warships, including a Greek frigate, on duty off the 2,400 mile (3,900 kilometer-long) coastline of Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency that has had no functioning government since 1991.
The four-ship contingent was dispatched to the region under a U.N. mandate to escort vessels chartered by the World Food Program to Somali ports, and to conduct patrols designed to deter pirates from attacking merchant ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.
The Greek and Italian warships are escorting cargo ships chartered by the U.N. food agency to carry aid from Mombasa, Kenya, to Mogadishu, Somalia. Turkish and British frigates are conducting deterrence patrols in the Gulf of Aden, where they engaged in a firefight last week with pirates attempting to hijack a Danish ship.
Next month, the European Union takes over the NATO mission, sending four ships to replace the four now patrolling under the NATO flag.
The U.S. 5th Fleet based in Bahrain also contributes to the policing of the coast with several ships stationed in the region. Working alongside are frigates from several other nations -- including Russia, India, Malaysia and Denmark.