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Pirates free Greek ship, as hostages attempt escape

Pirates free Greek ship, as hostages attempt escape

Nairobi: Somali pirates have released a Greek ship, MV Capt Stephanos, which they hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in September, a regional maritime organisation said Tuesday.

The ship along with 19 crewmembers was released late Monday, East Africa Seafarers Assistance Programme said in a statement. Seventeen Filipino sailors, one Ukrainian and a Chinese citizen were on board the ship when it was hijacked Sep 21.

'The ship's holding company Chartworld Shipping Corp (Athens) confirmed the release of MV Capt Stephanos, along with the crewmembers after 11 weeks of captivity,' the statement said.

Meanwhile, crewmen on an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo ship hijacked 10 weeks ago tried to overpower their Somali captors, the pirates said yesterday, as international efforts to stem piracy intensified.

"Some crew members on the Ukrainian ship are misbehaving. They tried to harm two of our gunmen late Monday," said a spokesman for the pirates aboard the MV Faina, held off the coast of Somalia since it was hijacked on September 25.

"This is unacceptable, they risk serious punitive measures. Somalis know how to live and how to die at the same time, but the Ukrainians' attempt to take violent action is misguided," said the spokesman, who declined to give his name.

At least 16 ships and more than 300 crew are currently being held. Among them is the Sirius Star, a 330-metre fully-laden tanker owned by the shipping arm of oil giant Saudi Aramco for which pirates are demanding $25m in ransom.

More than 120 attacks by Somali pirates have been reported this year alone in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean but all the hijackings have so far been resolved peacefully through the payment of ransoms.

Monday was the official date a new European Union anti-piracy force was supposed to be operational but it was unclear how many naval vessels were already in the region.

British Admiral Philip Jones will have six warships and three spotter planes at his disposal over the next year for his naval force, dubbed Atalanta, which took over protection duties Monday from four NATO vessels.

"The rules of engagement are very robust, with the possibility of using all means including force to protect, to deter and to prosecute all acts of piracy," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Brussels.

At least eight EU members will participate in the operation, which is tasked to escort aid deliveries to war-torn Somalia by UN World Food Programme vessels and patrol the area to dissuade pirate attacks on merchant ships. A Spanish newspaper reported yesterday that Spain may delay its participation due to delays in obtaining parliamentary approval to join the EU's first-ever naval force. But as Atalanta readied to patrol the Gulf of Aden, the pirates appeared to be shifting the goalposts on the EU armada.

The latest piracy attack took place on Sunday off the coast of Tanzania when the MV Maersk Regensburg came under rocket-propelled grenade fire that set off a blaze on board.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, the Hong Kong-flagged ship managed to outrun the pirates and their two speedboats.  [10/12/08]