Somali pirates release South Korean tanker

Somali pirates have freed a hijacked South Korean-operated supertanker and its 24 crew, officials said Sunday amid news reports that a record ransom was paid.

The Samho Dream was sailing toward a safe third country under the escort of a South Korean destroyer after being released Saturday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Its 24 crew — five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos — were all safe, ministry officials said.

The tanker, loaded with about $160 million in crude oil, was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in early April.

Ministry officials gave no further details about how the ship was released after seven months of captivity. South Korean media, including the Yonhap news agency, reported that a ransom of $9 million to $9.5 million was paid to secure the ship's release.

The reports weren't clear about exactly who paid the ransom, but Yonhap said the amount was the largest ever to be given to Somali pirates.

Yonhap cited Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, as saying the pirates earlier demanded $20 million.

South Korea-based Samho Shipping — which operates the supertanker — said Saturday it had no comment.

Yonhap cited a daughter of one of the South Korean crew members as saying the company head had phoned her Saturday to say negotiations had gone well and money was sent to the pirates via a helicopter.

"It's very, very good. I am anticipating a quick and safe return of all the sailors, including father," the daughter, Jeong Ji-eun, said.

Also on Saturday, the European Union Naval Force said the Singapore-flagged MV Golden Blessing was released by pirates. The EU force said the chemical tanker was seized on June 28 off Somalia's coast and has a crew of 19 Chinese. The statement gave no further details.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. Piracy has flourished off its coast, sometimes yielding multimillion-dollar ransoms.


Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.