'Record' ransom paid to pirates
Somali pirates freed a hijacked South Korean-operated supertanker and its 24 crew after seven months of captivity, officials said amid reports that a record ransom was paid.
The Samho Dream was sailing toward a safe third country under the escort of a South Korean destroyer after being released on Saturday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Its 24 crew - five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos - were all safe, ministry officials said.
The 300,000-ton tanker, loaded with about 160 million US dollars in crude oil, was sailing from Iraq to the US state of Louisiana when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in early April.
The release came after the tanker's operator - South Korea-based Samho Shipping - paid a ransom to the pirates, company official Cho Yong-woo said. The ship is owned by a company subsidiary in Singapore, he said.
Samho Shipping and Foreign Ministry officials declined to disclose exactly how much ransom was paid, but South Korean media, including the Yonhap news agency, reported that a ransom of nine million to 9.5 million US dollars (£5.8 million) was paid to secure the ship's release.
Yonhap said the amount was the largest ever to be given to Somali pirates.
It cited Andrew Mwangura, co-ordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, as saying the pirates earlier demanded 20 million US dollars (£12.4 million).
Similar seizures of oil supertankers in the waters off the coast of Somalia have yielded ransoms as high as 5.5 million US dollars (£3.4 million) in the past.
Samho Shipping chief Sohn Yong-ho told reporters that the ship's captain called him after his release and said the crude oil was in relatively good condition, Yonhap reported.