Pirates in Somalia have freed the seven crew members of a captured Seychelles research yacht, the “Indian Ocean Explorer”.
Reuters reports Somali gangs, who have been marauding in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean for several years, still hold 14 boats, with 203 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau’s latest figures.
They have seized 31 boats so far this year in 143 attacks, compared to 42 in 111 raids throughout last year.
Pirates seized the oceanographic research cruiser at the end of March near the Seychelles’ island of Assumption, the second vessel flying the Indian Ocean nation’s flag hijacked this year.
“We have released the Seychelles crew, they flew this morning,” a pirate named “Hassan” told Reuters from Haradheere port.
Another pirate source in Haradheere, who identified himself as Mohamed, said the gang had been hoping to exchange the hostages for some jailed colleagues.
The Seychelles is holding 23 suspected Somali pirates, captured in three separate incidents. There was no confirmation however of any exchange of people nor
information on any ransom payment.
Separately, eight Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s were caught in a high-speed chase by the NATO alliance’s Portuguese warship Corte-Real after they tried to attack a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden.
After a half-hour chase, the Portuguese frigate caught up with the twin-engine skiff.
Marines fired warning shots first into the air and then across the bow as loudhailers commanded the Somalis to stop. The pirates played cat-and-mouse, waiting for the warship to halt before speeding up again, trying to use their small size and powerful engines to escape the larger, bulkier frigate.
But after more warning shots, the skiff developed engine troubles and the pirates gave up the chase. A boarding team of seven marines took control of their boat.
Despite the attack and the weapons, the pirates had to be released after instruction from authorities in Portugal.
Because the Corte-Real must abide by Portuguese law, it can only arrest suspects who are Portuguese, if a victim or hostage is Portuguese, or if the pirates attack a vessel with a Portuguese crew member, NATO staff said.
“We need more legal support urgently to support our actions here as piracy will not stop,” Rear Admiral Jose Domingos Pereira da Cunha said.