MOGADISHU, Somalia – It's been a busy, profitable week for Somali pirates: They hijacked one South Korean bulk carrier Wednesday, released another South Korean cargo ship Thursday and let a hijacked Thai ship go Saturday after getting a ransom.
Somali minister Ali Abdi Aware reported the release of the Thai ship after the ransom, but said Sunday it was not clear exactly how much money was paid.
Aware, the minister for foreign affairs for the semiautonomous northern Somali region of Puntland, said Puntland forces will be hunting for the pirates. Earlier this week, Puntland forces freed a Panama-flagged cargo ship from pirates in a gunbattle that killed one soldier.
Somalia, which has had no effective government since 1991, has become the world's piracy hotspot.
There have been 73 attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden that forms the northern Somalia coastline, and about 29 ships have been hijacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The freed Korean ship had been hijacked for over a month. Korean officials said its 22 crew were safe but would not say whether a ransom was paid.
Nearly a dozen ships and over 200 crew remain in the hands of pirates, including the hijacked Ukrainian arms ship MV Faina, for which pirates have demanded an $8 million ransom.
U.S. warships are still surrounding the Faina to keep the pirates from unloading its cargo of battle tanks and heavy weapons.
The hijacking of the Faina and heightened concern over the chaos in a key shipping route has prompted NATO, the European Union and India to send warships to help the U.S. Navy ships that have been patrolling the region.
The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is one of the world's busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year.