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Somali pirates paid $4 mln ransom for coal ship

By on December 27, 2009

A helicopter dropped a $4 million ransom payment on Sunday on to the deck of a Chinese coal ship hijacked by Somali pirates in mid-October, a pirate source on board the vessel said.

The De Xin Hai and its 25 crew were carrying about 76,000 tonnes of coal from South Africa to the Indian port of Mundra when it was seized by gunmen in the Indian Ocean some 700 miles east of the Horn of Africa.

Sea gangs from Somalia have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by hijacking vessels using the shipping lanes there and in the strategic Gulf of Aden that links Europe to Asia.

Patrols in the area by warships from several nations only appear to have forced the pirates to hunt further from shore.

“A helicopter dropped the ransom money onto the ship. We have received $4 million,” Hassan, one of the pirates on the De Xin Hai, told Reuters by telephone to cheers in the background.

“We hope to disembark in a few hours. The crew is safe and — although they will not have their freedom for a few more days — they are all happy now.”

The October 19 hijacking of the De Xin Hai, which is owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping, a unit of China Ocean Shipping or COSCO, was the first known seizure of a coal ship by Somali pirates.

Indian coal traders warned at the time that this might encourage the gangs to seize other coal ships, since these dry bulk vessels are smaller and have relatively small crews.

Experts say a higher risk of pirate attacks could disrupt an expected increase in the volume of South African coal heading to India after a boom in Indian demand over the last two years.

China sent three warships to Somali waters late last year with great fanfare after a ship carrying oil to China was attacked by pirates. But Chinese warships, like those from other countries, provide protection mainly in the narrow and dangerous Gulf of Aden, not in the much larger Indian Ocean.

In late October and again in November, the pirates on board the De Xin Hai threatened to execute its 25 mostly young sailors if the Chinese military tried to rescue them.

Reuters.

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