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Saudi tanker crew 'safe and well'

A ransom is apparently dropped onto the Sirius Star by parachute 9 Jan 2008 (US Navy)
A negotiator for the pirates said a $3m (1.95m) ransom was paid.

The crew of the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star will soon be on their way home after Somali pirates freed the hijacked vessel, the ship's owners say.

The statement comes a day after a negotiator for the pirates said a $3m (1.95m) ransom had been paid.

A plane was seen apparently dropping money by parachute onto the ship, which is carrying two million barrels of oil.

The owners expressed relief that the 25-strong crew, including two Britons, was safe after their two-month ordeal.

"We are very relieved to know that all the crew members are safe and I am glad to say that they are all in good health and high spirits," said a statement released by Saleh K'aki, president of Vela International Marine.

"This has been a very trying time for them and certainly for their families. We are very happy to report to their families that they will be on their way home soon."

The UK Foreign Office said it was ready to assist the two Britons on board when they reach land - chief engineer Peter French, from County Durham, and James Grady, from Renfrewshire.

Drowned pirates

The Sirius Star was carrying two million barrels of oil - a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output - when it was seized 450 nautical miles south-east of Kenya in November.

The current location of the tanker is unclear.

Five of the pirates reportedly drowned while making off with their share of the ransom money after their skiff was hit by high seas.

Somali pirates have also released an Iranian-chartered vessel seized off the coast of Yemen in November, Iranian media reported.

The Delight, which was seized on its way to Iran from Germany carrying 36,000 tonnes of wheat, was freed on Friday night, reports said.

A surge in piracy in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes has sent insurance prices soaring, made some owners choose to go round South Africa instead of through the Suez Canal, and brought an unprecedented deployment of warships to the region.

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