Samho freed after 217 days, Somali pirates get $9.5 M

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Samho freed after 217 days, Somali pirates get $9.5 M

The hijacked Korean supertanker Samho Dream, with a crew of five Koreans and 19 Filipinos, was released at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night, according to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, after Somali pirates were paid a record ransom of more than $9 million from the ship’s owner Samho Shipping.

The ship and crew’s release comes 217 days since it was seized by the pirates in the Indian Ocean on April 4th. The supertanker, on route from Iraq to Louisiana in the United States, was carrying roughly $170 million worth of crude oil.

The pirates were said to have been given a record $9.5 million in return for the 319,360 ton ship’s release. Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the British news agency Reuters: “They initially demanded $20 million. What I can confirm is that negotiators tell me they agreed to make the drop with an amount in excess of $9 million. This would be the highest sum paid out to pirates so far.”

An official from the Foreign Ministry said yesterday that “the Samho Dream is currently being escorted to a safe location by the Korean naval ship Wang-gun from the Cheonghae Unit, and is expected to land at the port of Salalah in Oman this Thursday.”

The crew will receive medical checkups in Oman and the five Koreans will be flown home by Friday.

“The Philippine crew will return to their home country from Oman and we are aware that the Samho Dream will likely head for its original destination in the United States with a different crew,” said the official. “It is difficult for us to speak about the ransom amount or the negotiations because we said before that the government would not negotiate [with the pirates]. But we heard early last week that an agreement was pending.”

The president of Samho Shipping, Sohn Yong-ho, said that the crew is in good condition but would not disclose the exact amount paid to the pirates.

“We delivered the ransom around 11 p.m. on Saturday local time and after the pirates left the ship, the Korean soldiers from the Wang-gun boarded, checked the crew’s status and took over the ship,” Sohn said. “The captain of the ship, Kim Seong-gyu, called company headquarters after his release and informed us that no one has severe health complications and that the ship, though not in perfect shape, shouldn’t have any difficulties moving.”

Sohn said that the crude inside the ship is intact, but noted that the process was torturous and the ransom money was paid to get the crew out safely.

“There were many pirates that we spoke to while negotiating terms,” Sohn said. “Although our company wanted to wrap things up as soon as possible, they were difficult to get in touch with and kept dragging things out. They would call only when they wanted to and then would switch off their phones. The pirates made things more difficult by calling the crew’s family members to make threats.”

The company refused to disclose how much of the ransom came from insurance payouts.

After the Samho Dream was hijacked, the Korean navy attempted to take back the ship by deploying a Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin class destroyer from the Cheonghae Unit. But the pirates moved the ship to Hobyo on the Somali coast, a home base for pirates.

Samho Shipping attempted to negotiate with the pirates, making one or two phone calls a day, and the South Korean government advised the company on the negotiations, according to Sohn.

The Foreign Ministry, Ministry of National Defense and the National Intelligence Service lent support in the negotiating process, but did not take a leading role as the Korean government stated it would not negotiate with pirates. But the government was accused by political parties of ignoring the crew as negotiations dragged on for more than half a year.

The Singapore-registered ship MV Golden Blessing was also released by pirates, according to the European Union Naval Force Somalia. The chemical tanker seized on June 28 and carrying a crew of 19 Chinese was released for a reported ransom of $2.8 million. The Foreign Ministry did not have any further information yesterday on negotiations over the 240-ton “Geummi 305” trawler, hijacked by Somali pirates on Oct. 9.

By Christine Kim []
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