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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Pirates free ship for ransom -- but leave body behind

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

A Dutch ship and its Ukrainian crew was Tuesday freed by pirates after a 1.3-million-dollar ransom was paid, but rescuers found a dead sailor aboard the vessel taken six weeks ago off Somalia. The pirates shot dead a Ukrainian sailor when the MV Marathon was taken on May 7, Ukrainian intelligence and Dutch defence officials said, adding that a second member of the the ship's eight-strong crew was also wounded by gunfire.
Dutch defence ministry spokesman Marcel Pullen told AFP: "The crew are all Ukrainian. They are all exhausted."
The Dutch navy found the body when a warship met the vessel after it cleared the Somali coast, and Pullen said the MV Marathon was being escorted to a "safe port" by the Dutch frigate De Zeven Provincien.
Dutch news agency ANP said a ransom was dropped to the pirates from the air. Interfax later cited Ukrainian intelligence chief Mykola Malomuj as saying it amounted to 1.3 million dollars in cash (about 930,000 euros).
It said Malomuj told how the last pirate left the ship in the dead of night at 2215 GMT, adding that the freed ship would arrive in "a nearby port" on Friday or Saturday.
The crew's return to Ukraine, however, would possibly take until the start of the week.
A statement from the Ukrainian presidency said that the dead crew member was welder Sergei Vartenkov. The cook Georgi Gussakov was the other man shot and injured.
According to Malomuj, the killing did not emerge until after the ship's release because the pirates had threatened the crew if they managed to speak to family members or the ship's owners.
Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko offered his condolences to Vartenkov's family while praising the work of state services, his press service said.
A Dutch medical team was with the crew of while the foreign ministry said defence investigators were also on the ship, which was carrying coke, a coal residue used in steelmaking.
"I am shocked by the cowardly murder of a member of the crew," Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said in a statement.
"The Netherlands will do everything to end these practices, by putting Dutch navy ships into operations against piracy and supporting the creation of a regional tribunal so that the criminals do not escape punishment," the minister added.
Five pirates detained by the Dutch navy in January are being held in the Netherlands awaiting trial.
Somali pirates still hold 14 ships carrying more than 200 sailors, nearly a quarter of them Filipinos, according to the latest figures from the International Maritime Bureau.
Western powers, Russia, China and other nations have deployed dozens of warships in an anti-piracy task force off the Somalia coast. Despite the involvement of more than 20 countries attacks are still regularly reported.
A Portuguese frigate foiled a pirate attack on a container vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, capturing eight pirates.
By contrast, seven Seychelles nationals held hostage since late March were released on Monday, said Seychelles President James Michel.
Japan's parliament on Friday voted to increase Tokyo's involvement in the force because of the importance of the shipping lanes around Somalia.
Japan's two destroyers there had no prior mandate to use force except to protect Japanese interests or when acting in self-defence.
The new legal provisions allow the warships to protect any commercial ships threatened by pirates, not just those sailing under the Japanese flag or carrying Japanese nationals or cargo.

Source: AFP