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After 9 weeks in captivity, Somali pirates have released the Panama-flagged, UAE-owned Roll-on/ Roll-off (RO/RO) vessel MV LEILA. Puntland officials and residents in Karkar, where the vessel was being held, confirmed the release to to Somalia Report by phone on Thursday evening.
Puntland’s minister for sea transport, ports and counter-piracy Said Mohamed Raage spoke to Somalia Report this afternoon.
“I can confirm you that MV LEILA was finally released today and the vessel is now moving out of the pirates base. The crew are doing well, and the cargo is undamaged,” said Minister Raage.
He was unable to give further details about whether a ransom was paid.
In the face of growing pressure from local businessmen and elders, the pirates holding MV LEILA moved the vessel from Bargal to Hafun earlier this week. Much of the cargo on board is owned by Somaliland businessmen, who put pressure on both the Puntland authorities and the pirates to release the vessel without a ransom. Up until earlier this week, the pirates were said to be demanding a ransom of $2 million.
Conflicting reports from pirate sources in Puntland suggest that a much smaller ransom of $150,000 was paid, that elders and Puntland authorities pressured the pirates into releasing the vessel for far less ransom, as the attention was unwanted.
"Religious elders played an important role and finally succeeded in releasing the vessel from the pirates. The elders had asked the pirates before to release the vessel unconditionally, but the pirates had refused. Finally, the elders asked this group to accept a sum which covered the expenses of the hijacking, and pirates accepted. These negotiations between the pirates, elders and owners were private. The pirates final demand was $150,000, and when the owners agreed to paid this, the pirates released the vessel, but it was meant to remain secret,” said Liibaan Dheere, a businessman in Bosaso, told Somalia Report. He also said that MV Leila is currently in Bosaso and setting sail, with crew and cargo in sound condition.
Somali businessmen in Mombasa, however, are claiming that the ransom was, in fact, set at $2 million. Somalia Report will be investigating these claims.
Abdi Haji, a pirate operating out of Karkar provided details of developments during the nine-week captivity period.
“The cargo on board is safe and untouched. Prior to the move to Hafun, the pirates had tried to use the vessel as a mothership twice, but after efforts proved unsuccessful, they focussed on extracting a ransom. Because Somaliland businessmen own the cargo, they put pressure on the pirates to release the ship without a ransom. After these attempts failed, elders and officials from Puntland tried to engage the pirates.”
Pirates from the Ali-Saleban clan hijacked the vessel and 24-strong crew on February 15.
The vessel, built in 1973, is owned and operated by New Port Cargo & Shipping of Dubai.