A helicopter dropped a $4 million ransom payment on Sunday on to the deck of a Chinese coal ship hijacked by Somali pirates in mid-October.
A helicopter dropped a $4 million ransom payment on Sunday on to the deck of a Chinese coal ship hijacked by Somali pirates in mid-October, a pirate source on board the vessel said. The De Xin Hai and its 25 crew were carrying about 76,000 tons of coal from South Africa to Mundra in India when it was seized in an audacious attack by the gunmen some 700 miles east of the Horn of Africa.
Heavily armed sea gangs from Somalia have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms hijacking vessels in the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, which links Europe to Asia.
Patrols in the area by warships from several nations only appear to have forced the pirates to hunt further from shore.
"A helicopter dropped the ransom money on to the ship. We have received $4 million," Hassan, one of the pirates on the De Xin Hai, told by telephone to cheers in the background.
"We hope to disembark in a few hours," he added.
"The crew is safe and, although they will not have their freedom for a few more days, they are all happy now."
The chaos in the waters off Somalia is a reflection of a civil war on land that has killed 19,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and driven 1.5 million from their homes, triggering one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies.
Western security agencies say the drought-ridden nation has become a safe haven for militants, including foreign jihadists, who are using it to plot attacks across the region and beyond.
FIRST COAL SHIP HIJACKING
The October 19 hijacking of the De Xin Hai, which is owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping, a unit of China Ocean Shipping or COSCO, was the first known seizure of a coal ship by Somali pirates.
Indian coal traders warned at the time that this might encourage the gangs to seize other coal ships, since these dry bulk carriers are smaller and have relatively small crews.
Experts say a higher risk of pirate attacks could disrupt an expected increase in the volume of South African coal heading to India after a boom in Indian demand over the last two years.
China sent three warships to Somali waters late last year with great fanfare after a ship carrying oil to China was attacked by pirates. But Chinese warships, like those from other countries, provide protection mainly in the narrow and dangerous Gulf of Aden, not in the much larger Indian Ocean.
In late October and again in November, the pirates on board the De Xin Hai threatened to execute its 25 mostly young sailors if the Chinese military tried to rescue them.
Separately on Sunday, regional maritime officials said Somali pirates freed an Indian fishing dhow last week, the Laxim Sagar, and its 10 crew. They were hijacked earlier this month.
The officials said no ransom was paid, but the gunmen stole money and belongings from the sailors before disembarking.