Pirates release prisoners after five months

MANILA, Philippines – A torturous wait by the families of 23 captive Filipinos ended yesterday as Somali pirates freed a chemical tanker after holding the crew for more than five months in the Gulf of Aden. Catherine Borretta broke into tears after receiving a mobile phone message that her husband Rodell – a second mate on the Philippine ship MT Stolt Strength – was released with the others. ‘I’m so overjoyed, so overwhelmed,’ Borretta said, adding she’ll welcome Rodell with his favorite pork dish and a small party at home. It was unclear if a ransom was paid for the release of the tanker and crew. Family members said the Somali pirates earlier demanded $5 million but the amount had been reduced to about $2.2 million last week. One crew member needed medical attention but does not have a serious problem, NATO spokesman Lt-Cmdr. Alexandre Santos Fernandes said. The tanker will head to Mombasa, Kenya, arriving in about a week. ‘They have been released, thank God!’ said Doris Deseo, wife of Carlo Deseo, the ship’s 31-year-old third mate. ‘They are no longer in the hands of the pirates. I am super happy.’ At least 16 other ships with nearly 300 crew remain in the hands of Somali pirates, officials say. The release came as an international maritime watchdog reported yesterday that attacks by sea worldwide nearly doubled in the first three months of 2009, mainly because of increased pirate raids on vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia. Analysts blame Somalia’s nearly 20 years of lawlessness for fueling piracy’s rise. Attacks have risen markedly in recent weeks, including one Monday when pirates fired rockets at a Maltese-flagged ship off Yemen’s coast. NATO warships scrambled helicopters in defense and the pirates escaped with no damage to the cargo ship. Yesterdays’s release came a day after a separate group of bandits freed the Lebanese-owned food aid freighter MV Sea Horse after receiving $100,000 from Somali businessmen.