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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Somali pirates keep Indian hostages after ransom

In a move that could change the pirate-hostage equation, Somali pirates on Friday took in a multimillion dollar ransom, then released the ship and some of the crew but kept all the Indian crew members as hostages.

A pirate told The Associated Press the Indian crew members' hostage ordeal is being prolonged in retaliation for the arrests of more than 100 Somali pirates by the Indian Navy.

"We decided to keep the Indian because India is holding our colleagues," the pirate, Hassan Farah, said. "We released the other crew members who sailed away from our coast. We will keep these Indians until the Indians release our colleagues."

Farah said the pirates in the stronghold of Haradhere have taken that collective decision. The Indian hostages are to be moved to land.

A multimillion dollar ransom was paid for the ship Asphalt Venture, whose ownership is located in Mumbai, India. Pirates are receiving an average of $5 million to release ships and crew, and a ransom in that ballpark was believed to have been paid on Friday.

It wasn't immediately clear how many of the 15 crew members aboard the Asphalt Venture were Indian. The ship was hijacked in late September.

Friday's pirate action marks a major departure from the standard pirate business model of release-for-ransom and could complicate international military efforts against the piracy trade.

Earlier this year pirates killed four American hostages while U.S. Navy warships were shadowing the hijacked yacht, the first time pirates had done that.

Overall, analysts say pirates are becoming increasingly aggressive, violent and hostile.

The Indian navy has seized around 120 pirates, mostly from Somalia, over the past few months. Last month the Indian navy captured 61 pirates when they attacked a naval ship. Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the Indian Ocean area since 2008.

Piracy has long plagued the shipping industry off East Africa, but violence has escalated in recent months. Pirates held some 30 ships and more than 600 hostages.

Source: The Associated Press

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