Pirates free tanker but not crew from Korea

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Pirates free tanker but not crew from Korea

Somali pirates have released a chemical tanker they hijacked seven months ago but are still detaining four Korean crew members in an apparent attempt to win the release of five pirates awaiting trial in Korea, an official said yesterday.

“The MT Gemini itself was released at 3 a.m. yesterday [local time], following negotiations with the Singaporean ship owner,” an official at Seoul’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

“It appears that the pirates took the four Korean crewmen into Somalia as they left the ship,” he said.

The Koreans were among 25 crew members of the 21,000-ton vessel that was hijacked on April 30 in waters off Kenya.

All other members of the crew, including 13 Indonesians, five Chinese and three Myanmar nationals, have been released.

The official said the detention of the Koreans appears to be related to the pirates’ earlier demands for the release of five Somali pirates who were captured in a Korean naval operation earlier this year.

Korean Navy commandos raided a hijacked Korean freighter on Jan. 21, capturing five pirates and killing eight others. They rescued all 21 crew members and brought the captured pirates to Korea for trial.

“Throughout the negotiations, the pirates [on the MT Gemini] have demanded compensation from our government for their killed colleagues and the release of those on trial,” the official said.

“The government’s position is that we do not negotiate with pirates, and we are closely in touch with the Singaporean firm to secure the release of the remaining four,” he said.

The pirates left the ship at the Somali port of Hobyo soon after the Singaporean firm dropped an undisclosed amount of money in ransom from a helicopter, he added.

Rescued crewmen reportedly told officials that the pirates fled by boat, taking only Korean sailors with them, to land at 3 a.m. that day.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-hwan asked Abdarahim Abdi Abikar, Somali deputy foreign minister, who is attending the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, for cooperation on the matter to resolve the hostage situation.

Abikar replied, “I will help out as much as I can to locate the whereabouts of the pirates when I return home.” Yonhap

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