Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Monday, 20 April 2009 15:39 UK

Pirates release ship for 'ransom'

A Somali pirate
Pirates have stepped up attacks on shipping in recent weeks

Somali pirates have released a Togo-flagged cargo ship seized last week, reportedly after a $100,000 (£68,000) ransom was paid.

The 5,000-tonne Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse was taken by gunmen in several skiffs on 14 April east of Mogadishu.

The ship had been heading to Mumbai, India, to pick up food aid for Somalia.

Nineteen foreign vessels and more than 300 sailors remain in the hands of Somali pirates, who have stepped up attacks on shipping in recent weeks.

About three million people - half the Somali population - need assistance, donors say.

"Somali traders were involved in the release of this ship. They mediated and paid some money. I think it was not more than $100,000," a source told Reuters news agency by telephone.

Islam says if you become a pirate you should definitely be killed because you are killing the people
Abdurrahman Haji Adam
Deputy prime minister

The World Food Programme said the cargo ship had been released on Friday.

At the weekend, Nato foiled two pirate attacks - the latest in a string of successful Western military operations against the gangs.

Warships and helicopters prevented an attempt by raiders to board a Norwegian tanker after a seven-hour overnight pursuit in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.

And the day before, Dutch commandos freed 20 pirate hostages from Yemen.

But sea brigands also managed to seize a Belgian ship - the MV Pompei - on Saturday and were steering it towards the Somali coast.

Cat and mouse

The first Belgian ship to be seized by Somali pirates, its crew include a Dutch captain, two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians.

On Sunday, the Somali government said captured pirates could face the death penalty.

MV Pompei, towing a smaller vessel, thought to be a pirate boat, heading towards the Somali coast on 19 April 2009
Somali pirates seized their first Belgian ship at the weekend

"Becoming a pirate is a crime, and Islam says if you become a pirate you should definitely be killed because you are killing the people," said Somalia's deputy prime minister, Abdurrahman Haji Adam, reported AP news agency. "We will announce it immediately."

However, the internationally recognised government only controls a small part of the capital and little other territory.

Meanwhile, the mother of a teenage pirate held in US custody over the hostage-taking of an American sea captain this month has appealed to US President Barack Obama to release her son, who she says is aged just 16.

In an interview with the BBC, Adar Abdurahman Hassan said her son, Abde Wale Abdul Kadhir Muse, was innocent and she wanted to be present if he was put on trial.

Richard Phillips, the US captain of the Maersk Alabama, was rescued when US Navy snipers shot dead three pirates holding him in a lifeboat.

Abde Wale Abdul Kadhir Muse survived because he was on board an American warship negotiating with US officials at the time.

Mrs Hassan said her son had been missing for two weeks prior to the hijacking and she only realised he had been implicated when she heard his name in a radio report.

Somali pirates have hijacked about a dozen ships since the start of April, despite the presence of around 20 foreign naval vessels in the area.

Shipping companies last year handed over about $80m (£54m) in ransom payments to the gangs.

The Horn of Africa nation has been without an effective government since 1991, fuelling the lawlessness which has allowed piracy to thrive.

In the maritime game of cat and mouse, international naval patrols struggle to cover the vast areas of ocean where the gangs operate.

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