WORLD> Africa
Somali pirates release Japanese ship with 23 crew
Updated: 2009-02-13 15:57

NAIROBI -- Somali pirates have released a Japanese cargo ship which was seized in mid November off the Horn of Africa nation's coast with 23 crew, a regional maritime organization said on Friday.

A statement from Ecoterra International said the Panama-flagged MT Chemstar Venus, whose crewmen include five South Koreans and Filipinos, was released on Thursday evening after being hijacked by an armed group in waters off Somalia on November 15, 2008.

Ecoterra International, an organization monitoring piracy in the region, said the ship was freeed after a ransom was paid to the pirates.

"MT Chemstar Venus, sea-jacked on November 15, 2008, was released last evening. Last minute conflicts among the pirates as well as between the captors of the vessel and the owner could be solved. The last of her captors left around 22:30hrs after having received a ransom delivered by tug-boat," the statement said.

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The Japanese vessel, whose release followed that of the Ukrainian ship, MV Faina which docked at the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Thursday, was carrying 20,000 tons of oil products.

"Seafarer Roger Arroyo, the father of a daughter who has cancer and needs an urgent bone-marrow transfer to combat her Leukaemia, therefore is also free and safe and will be able to  fly back to his daughter and family with highest priority as soon as the vessel docks at its next harbour," the organization said.

The released freighter is owned and managed by the Japanese company Iino Marine.

Aat least 11 foreign vessels are still held by Somali pirates. More than 170 seamen are held hostage.

Somalia, which has had no functioning government since 1991, is the world's top piracy hotspot.

It is located along the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world's busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year.