- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

ATHENS | Somali pirates have released a hijacked Greek-owned tanker with all 19 crew members safe and the oil cargo intact after payment of a ransom, the ship’s management company said Saturday.

It did not say how much was paid.

The Liberian-flagged tanker MV Genius, seized Sept. 26, was released Friday and was about 500 miles off Somalia on its way to the United Arab Emirates, Greek Merchant Marine Ministry spokesman Constantine Gialelis confirmed. He said the crew is Georgian, Sri Lankan and Syrian.

The pirates had seized the 6,765 gross-ton vessel in the Gulf of Aden near the Horn of Africa, waters that have become highly dangerous for shipping.

The pirates contacted the owners right after they hijacked the ship and demanded a ransom, a representative of Piraeus-based Mare Shipmanagement, the tanker’s management company, told the Associated Press.

“Our primary concern is the safety of the ship and its crew. … They released it when ransom was paid,” Ctesiphon Koukoulas told the AP by telephone, without specifying the amount.

He said he could not divulge details because of safety concerns for the crews of other ships held by pirates in the area. At least one other Greek-owned ship is held there.

The crew was safe and the cargo was intact, he said.

In the past two weeks, Somalia’s increasingly brazen pirates have seized eight vessels, including a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil. Several hundred crew members are now in the hands of Somali pirates. The pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somali coast and negotiate for ransom.

Mr. Koukoulas, whose company manages five ships, said the pirates keep the ships they hijack “at a secure location” on the Somali coast. The cargo vessels crossing the busy seaway are advised by warships patrolling the area on what route to take but “the best one can do is pray that it doesn’t happen to them,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Friday that the Saudi government was not negotiating with pirates and would not do so, but whatever the ship’s owners did was up to them.

The same day, a radical Islamic group in Somalia said ships belonging to Muslim countries should not be seized and that it would fight the pirates holding the Saudi supertanker.

NATO has four warships, including a Greek frigate, on duty off the 2,400 mile coastline of Somalia, an impoverished nation caught up in an Islamic insurgency that has had no functioning government since 1991.

The four-ship contingent was dispatched to the region under a U.N. mandate to escort vessels chartered by the World Food Program to Somali ports, and to conduct patrols designed to deter pirates from attacking merchant ships transiting the Gulf of Aden.

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