Somali Pirates Free Egyptian Ship Held for Two Months

Somali pirates freed an Egyptian cargo ship and its crew of 28 after holding the vessel for more than two months, an Egyptian ambassador said Thursday.

Ambassador to Somalia Saeed Morsy said the ship was released Wednesday, but did not say if any ransom was paid.

The Blue Star was carrying 6,000 tons of fertilizer when 15 armed pirates seized it Jan. 1 as it passed through the Red Sea and entered the Gulf of Aden.

Al-Badeel, an Egyptian daily newspaper, quoted Abdel-Hameed Ibrahim, father of one of the crew, as saying a ransom was dropped from a plane. It said the ship was en route to Kenya for refueling and will return to Egypt's Mediterranean port of Alexandria in three days.

The report could not immediately be confirmed.

The lawless Somali coastline is plagued by pirates, who attacked over 100 ships last year. The capture of a Ukrainian vessel loaded with arms focused international attention on the problem and countries as diverse as India, America, China and France sent warships to patrol the Gulf of Aden, which is one of the world's most important shipping lanes.

The naval presence is having some effect; the pirates' success rate at taking over a vessel has fallen from nearly 50 percent to around 30 percent. But attacks on commercial shipping have continued despite the patrols and some arrests.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy handed over seven suspected pirates to Kenyan authorities for prosecution after they allegedly tried to hijack a merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The seven pirates were seized Feb. 11, when the Marshall Islands-flagged merchant ship Polaris reported gunmen had tried to board it from a skiff. U.S. sailors found automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades aboard, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.

Meanwhile, German authorities launched an investigation against nine suspected pirates captured by a German navy frigate in the Gulf of Aden.

The nine were captured Wednesday after they attacked the Hamburg-based cargo ship MV Courier. Germany's Rheinland-Pfalz frigate answered the MV Courier's distress call and captured the pirates.

They are being held on the ship under international law as part of the European Union's "Atalanta" anti-piracy mission. They are the first pirates detained by Germany since the bloc's naval mission began in December.

Germany's Justice and Foreign ministries are working with other government agencies and the military to determine whether they should be brought to Germany to stand trial.

Analysts say the attacks will continue as long as chaotic Somalia provides a haven for pirate bases and its people remain poor. The Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government for since 1991 and is riven between heavily armed clan-based militias.