Pirates Release Tanker and 26 Crew Seized Last Year

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Somali pirates released a Greek-owned crude oil tanker and its 26 crew members seized 10 months ago in the Arabian Sea, the vessel's owner, Dynacom Tankers Management, said Monday.

The MT Smyrni, which was carrying 1 million barrels of crude, was hijacked in May last year off the Gulf Arab state of Oman. Pirates said they released the vessel last week after receiving ransom.

"We took $9.5 million in ransom money and got off from the crude tanker on Friday night," Isse Abdulahi, who is understood to be one of four pirates who financed the hijacking operation, told Reuters by telephone.

The company declined to comment on the ransom claim. It said in a statement that all the crew members—14 Filipinos, 11 Indians and one Romanian—were safe and that the vessel was sailing to a port of refuge.

Abdulahi said that two crew members were ill.

Global ship tracking data showed MT Smyrni had left the northern tip of Somalia on Saturday. It sailed south to central Somalia before changing course and heading away from the Somali coast toward India on Sunday.

The hijacking in May as MT Smyrni was sailing to Indonesia was one of the last successful attacks on a large oil tanker by Somali pirates in the Horn of Africa region.

The number of successful pirate attacks has dropped as international navies have stepped up patrols to protect marine traffic and struck at pirate bases on the Somali coast as piracy has driven up shipping costs, including insurance.

Shipping firms have also increasingly deployed armed guards and laid out razor wire on their vessels to deter attacks.

MT Smyrni was the second tanker to be freed by Somali pirates within the last few days. A chemical tanker hijacked a year ago with more than 20 crew on board was also released last week.

In a separate incident, three sailors kidnapped last month from their British-operated cargo ship by pirates off the coast of Nigeria have been released, the vessel's operator said Monday.

There has been a surge in piracy attacks off the coast of Africa's most populous nation this year, with gangs showing signs of moving further afield and using more violent tactics.

The British-flagged Esther C was boarded and ransacked on Feb. 7, 80 miles off the south coast of Nigeria by heavily armed pirates before they made off with the three seamen, including the ship's captain, Isle of Wight-based Carisbrooke Shipping, said in a statement.

"The three officers were confirmed as being safe and in good spirits on March 11 after 31 days in captivity," the statement said.

A spokesman for Carisbrooke Shipping said separately the three crew members, two Russians and a Romanian, had been taken hostage and held in Nigeria before being released. based in the Isle of Wight,

Armed gangs typically have targeted oil tankers, and attacks on cargo ships are rarer.

Oil and shipping companies have to hire crisis management teams, pay higher insurance premiums and face the prospect of ransom payments, as well as brace themselves for damage to their reputations.

Oil majors Exxon Mobil and Shell said last month that security was a major factor in making Nigeria one of the most expensive oil-producing countries to operate in.