Somali pirates receive record ransom for ships' release
Somali pirates are reported to have received a total of $12.3m (£7.6m) in ransom money to release two ships.
They are believed to have been paid a record $9.5m (£5.8m) for Samho Dream, a South Korean oil tanker, and nearly $2.8m (£1.7m) for the Golden Blessing, a Singaporean flagged ship.
"We are now counting our cash," a pirate who gave his name as Hussein told Reuters news agency. "Soon we shall get down from the ship."
All crew are believed to be unharmed.
The Samho Dream supertanker was hijacked in the Indian Ocean in April and its crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos were taken hostage. It was carrying crude oil worth $170m (£105m) from Iraq to the US.
Although released it is still within Somali waters and the ship's 24 crew members are said to be in good condition.
Andrew Mwangura, co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme in Mombasa, told Reuters that the ransom would be the highest paid out to pirates since they started hijacking ships in recent years.
From Jan-Sept 2010:
- Pirates boarded 128 ships
- Guns used in 137 incidents and knives in 66
- One crew member killed, 27 injured, 773 taken hostage
"They initially demanded $20m. What I can confirm is that negotiators tell me they agreed to make the drop with an amount in excess of $9m.
"This would be the highest sum paid out to pirates so far," he said.
The BBC's Kevin Mwachiro in Nairobi says the size of the payment is likely to change the rules of engagement when it comes to securing the release of ships held by Somali pirates. They are currently holding at least 25 vessels.
Earlier reports said the pirates had received $9m for Samho Dream and $7m for the Golden Blessing, but this was later revised.
The Golden Blessing has 23 Chinese crew.
According to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau, a maritime watchdog, ship hijackings hit a five-year high in the first nine months of 2010, with Somali pirates responsible for the majority.