Somali pirates who seized a Comoros-flagged oil tanker earlier this week after five years without a major hijacking in the region have released the ship and its crew without conditions, officials said today.
Security official Ahmed Mohamed told The Associated Press the pirates disembarked the ship, which was heading to Bossaso port, the region's commercial hub, with its eight Sri Lankan crew members aboard.
Mohamed said the release occurred after negotiations by local elders and officials with the pirates, who seized the tanker on Monday.
Naval forces from the semiautonomous state of Puntland and the pirates clashed earlier today after the pirates opened fire.
The hijacking of the Comoros-flagged tanker Aris 13 was the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel off Somalia since 2012. International anti-piracy patrols on the crucial trade route had calmed such attacks, which once numbered in the hundreds.
Abdirizak Mohamed Ahmed, the director of Puntand's anti-piracy agency, confirmed the release of the ship today night and said naval forces had boarded it to escort it to port.
The European Union anti-piracy operation in the region had said the pirates had been holding the crew captive and demanding a ransom.
Ahmed said the Puntland naval forces had been dispatched to the area not to free the ship by force but to cut off any supplies to the pirates.
"Attacking the ship will not help, but instead it will endanger the lives of the crew," he said.
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