Brussels – Somali pirates have released a Belgian ship and its European and Filipino crew, hijacked 10 weeks ago, after a ransom was paid, Belgian authorities said Sunday, adding that the crew were in good health.
"At 5.43 (0345 GMT) this morning, the last hostage-taker finally left the ship," Jaak Raes, director general of the Belgian government’s crisis centre, told a press conference.
"We can confirm that they (the crew) are all in good health, considering the circumstances," he added.
The amount of ransom paid was not disclosed.
The ship, the Pompei, was hijacked at dawn on 18 April about 150 kilometres (90 miles) north of the Seychelles and taken to the Somalia coast.
Its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians have since been held hostage.
A tape of the captain, Hendrik Toxopeus, confirming that the hijackers had left was played to the press conference.
"An initial ransom demand was made for eight million dollars. After 68 days of negotiations, an agreement was reached on Wednesday, thanks to the mediation of a Somali intermediary, who went on board the ship several times," Interior Minister Guido De Padt said.
The ransom was paid by the Belgian owners of the Pompei, Jan De Nui, Deme and Herbosch-Kiere. The amount was not revealed.
It was dropped by parachute on Saturday afternoon by a plane near the ship, which was at anchor off Hobyo, 34 kilometres northeast of the Somali coastal town of Harardhere, Belgian officials said.
Because of the weather conditions, the hijackers were not able to leave the ship until Saturday night.
In the coming days, the Pompei will put into a safe port in the region, escorted by a Greek ship in the European Union’s anti-piracy Operation, Atalanta, Defence Minister Pieter De Crem said.
He added that military intervention to free the ship had "been judged inopportune."
The news of Pompei’s release was broken Sunday by Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy.
"The government was informed of the release of the Pompei and its crew," he said in a statement. "We were also informed that the entire crew is in good health."
"Our thoughts are with the Belgian, Dutch, Croatian and Filipino families of the crew who had to endure difficult moments since Saturday 18 April," he added.
At the time of its capture the ship, which specialises in the transportation and laying of rocks, was on its way to South Africa from Dubai, where it had taken part in the construction of artifical islands.
Belgian officials said they had opened an enquiry and would send a team of investigators to look for fingerprints or DNA traces left by the pirates on the vessel.
"There is a chance" of finding them, Belgian state prosecutor Johan Delmulle said, adding that the hostage-takers were liable to up to 30 years in prison if caught and convicted.
He said that the Pompei, which was flying the Belgian flag and in international waters when it was attacked, "should be considered part of Belgian territory."
AFP / Philippe Siuberski / Expatica