*** ----> Somali pirates free ship after Bangladeshi owners pay ransom | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

Somali pirates free ship after Bangladeshi owners pay ransom

AFP | Chittagong          

The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com

Somali pirates freed a Bangladesh-flagged cargo vessel and its 23 crew early Sunday after sackloads of US dollars were air-dropped to them in ransom, the company and relatives said.

The bulk carrier MV Abdullah was transporting more than 55,000 tonnes of coal from Maputo to the United Arab Emirates when it was seized by dozens of pirates around 550 nautical miles (1,000 kilometres) off the Somali coast a month ago.

The seizure came amid a surge in Somali pirate activity, with international naval forces diverted from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea to guard against attacks on shipping by Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Negotiations for the ship's release were led by Meherul Karim, CEO of its owners KSRM.

"The pirates called us when they reached near the Somalia coast" and one of them spoke English, he told reporters in Chittagong on Sunday.

"He communicated with us till we finalised the negotiation," he added. "We will not discuss or reveal the amount of ransom money."

Video footage had been provided to show all the crew were safe, and early Sunday around 65 pirates left the ship on nine boats, he said.

The MV Abdullah was on its way to its original destination escorted by two European Union ships, he said, and the pirates had given the crew a letter of safe passage in Somali promising "the ship would not come under any more attacks by pirates until it reached Dubai port".

Fahmida Akter Anny, wife of the ship's master Mohammed Abdur Rashid, said her husband told her an airplane dropped three sacks filled with US dollars to the pirates before circling the vessel three times.

"After receiving the money, they released all crew," she said. "My husband was happy."

The vessel's capture came after the first successful case of Somali piracy since 2017 was recorded in December.

A series of incidents since then has fuelled concerns about a resurgence of Indian Ocean raids by opportunistic pirates exploiting a security gap after the redeployment of international forces.

Huthi gunmen have launched scores of attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden targeting what they deem to be Israeli-linked vessels in response to Israel's war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza.

Naval forces -- including from India, Sri Lanka and the Seychelles -- have since freed fishing boats seized by gunmen and thwarted other attempted attacks.

Last month, Indian commandos boarded and recaptured the vessel seized in December, the Maltese-flagged MV Ruen, around 260 nautical miles (480 kilometres) off the Somali coast.

All 17 hostages were rescued and 35 alleged pirates were brought to Mumbai to face prosecution.

Analysts say that the Somali pirate threat remains well below its 2011 peak, when gunmen launched attacks as far as 3,655 kilometres from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean.

It fell off sharply after international navies sent warships and commercial shipping deployed armed guards.