By Mohamed Olad Hassan
Sunday, January 11, 2009
MOGADISHU, Somalia, Jan. 10 -- Five of the pirates who hijacked a Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of a $3 million ransom, a relative said Saturday, the day after the bundle of cash was apparently dropped by parachute onto the deck of the ship.
The Sirius Star and its 25 crew members sailed safely away Friday at the end of a two-month standoff in the Gulf of Aden, where pirates attacked more than 100 ships last year. Hundreds more kidnapped sailors remain in the hands of pirates.
The drowned pirates' boat overturned in rough seas, and family members were still looking for four bodies, said Daud Nure, another pirate who knew the men involved.
Piracy is one of the few ways to make money in Somalia. Half the population is dependent on aid, and a whole generation has grown up amid war. A recent report by London's Chatham House research group said pirates raked in more than $30 million in ransom last year.
Somalia's lawless coastline borders one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. Attacks have continued despite the patrols by warships from France, Germany, Britain, the United States, India and China.
The naval coalition has been closely monitoring both the Sirius Star and the Faina, a Ukrainian ship loaded with military tanks that has been held since September. The seizure of the Sirius Star on Nov. 15 prompted fears that the pirates might release some of the cargo of crude oil into the ocean, causing an environmental disaster as a way of pressuring negotiators. At the time, the oil was valued at $100 million.
Abukar Haji, an uncle of one of the dead pirates, blamed the naval surveillance for the accident that killed his nephew Saturday.
"The boat the pirates were traveling in capsized because it was running at high speed because the pirates were afraid of an attack from the warships patrolling around," he said.
The tanker had left Somali territorial waters and was on its way home Saturday, said Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi. A ministry official said the ship was headed for Dammam, on the country's Gulf coast, but gave no estimated time of arrival. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
The U.S. Navy, which announced in the past week it will head a new anti-piracy task force, released photos Friday showing a parachute, carrying what was described as "an apparent payment," floating down toward the tanker.