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Somalia pirates free MV Panama after US$7 million ransom paid

altSomali pirates have freed the Liberian-flagged container ship MV Panama after receiving a US$7 million ransom. The vessel was hijacked on December 10 en route from Tanzania to Mozambique with a crew of 23 from Myanmar.

"We received the agreed ransom of US$7 million early in the morning [of Tuesday] after long negotiations. Now we have abandoned the ship and it is sailing away safely," a pirate who gave his name as Abdi told Reuters.

Somali piracy is estimated to cost the world economy billions of dollars a year and international navies struggle to combat the menace, especially in the Indian Ocean due to the vast distances involved. The shipping industry has warned that seaborne gangs pose an increasing threat to vital sea lanes.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of September 8, pirates have made 326 attacks against ships this year and hijacked 33. Somali pirates have been responsible for 186 of those attacks, capturing 23 vessels and 399 hostages. They are holding 301 hostages and 16 vessels.

Due to the ongoing problem of piracy, shipping industry groups have urged the United Nations to create an armed military force to be deployed on vessels to combat Somali piracy, describing the escalating crisis in the Indian Ocean as being like the "wild West".

In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent last month and published on Friday, the world's four international shipping associations said hundreds of seafarers were being held hostage and 60 merchant mariners had died already due to piracy.

"It is now abundantly clear to shipping companies that the current situation, whereby control of the Indian Ocean has been ceded to pirates, requires a bold new strategy," they said.

While naval patrols, including vessels from the European Union, the United States and other nations such as South Korea, Iran and Turkey, have curbed the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden, piracy in the Indian Ocean has continued to rise.

The four associations, the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, Intercargo and INTERTANKO, which represent the majority of the world's ship owners, said the situation could only be reversed with a different approach to supplement long term development work in Somalia.

"We believe that an important element in this approach would be the establishment of a U.N. force of armed military guards that can be deployed in small numbers onboard merchant ships."

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