Deal by Somali pirates: $7m ransom dropped on to seized supertanker

images175736_hylapSomali pirates freed the Greek supertanker Maran Centaurus yesterday after a plane dropped a record ransom — estimated at US$7-million in cash–on its deck.
The release was delayed after fighting broke out among the pirate gangs on land over sharing of the loot. Residents of Harardhere, a pirate lair on the Somalia coast, said there were bodies in the streets.
The tanker and its crew of 28 were hijacked in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 29.
“Maran Tankers Management Inc. … report that the vessel was released by those holding her at 0830 local time today,” the operators and managers of the Greek juggernaut said. They did not comment on the ransom reports.
The European Union’s anti-piracy naval mission said the FS Salamis warship had sent a helicopter to provide medical assistance and the 332-metre vessel was headed for Durban, South Africa.
Ecoterra International, an environmental group that monitors illegal maritime activity in the region, said the last pirates left the 15-year-old supertanker early yesterday.
It added the ransom of at least US$7-million was believed to have been dropped from a small plane onto the deck of the tanker and another US$2-million paid in cash transfer.
The pirates reportedly bragged about giving US$500 to each crew member — 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and a Romanian — “for good co-operation.”
The money is now being held in a heavily guarded house in Harardhere.
Residents said they heard machine guns being fired after two clans started fighting over how to divide the cash.
“The pirates are exchanging heavy machine-gun fire inside the town and there are dead bodies in the streets,” Husein Warsame said.
The US$9-million exceeds the US$8-million believed to have been paid for the release a year ago of the Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned supertanker of about the same size.
The hijacking of the Sirius Star in 2008 sent shock waves through the shipping world as it showed the ease with which pirates could operate in one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes.
Foreign naval missions have largely secured the Gulf of Aden, but are powerless to patrol the wider Indian Ocean effectively. Shipowners are increasingly turning to private security to fend off the pirates.
The Maran Centaurus, which had no private guards to secure its two million barrels of crude oil, was headed from Saudi Arabia to the United States.
The 300,000-tonne supertanker was easy prey for pirates equipped with fast skiffs and grapnels as it moves slowly, could not outmanoeuvre its attackers and, fully laden, has a low freeboard. Supertankers, carrying fewer than 30 crew on a ship a third of a kilometre long, cruise on auto-pilot most of the time and would rarely have anybody keeping watch on deck at night.
(source: Agence France-Presse)


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