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Somali pirates free Bolivian-flagged ship

2012-04-04 10:08

La Paz - A Bolivian-flagged vessel seized by Somali pirates since last week has been freed, and is continuing on to Iran with its sugar shipment, the Bolivian government announced on Tuesday.

The MV Eglantine was seized by Somali pirates last week off Hoarafushi island in the Maldives, the first hijacking in the waters of the archipelago.

The Bolivian-flagged and Iranian-owned vessel had a total of 23 crew, but their nationalities were not immediately known.

The ship "no longer is in their [the pirates'] control as of Monday. Now it is sailing securely to port to deliver its cargo" of Brazilian sugar, said the Bolivian International Ship Registry office, which reports to the defense ministry.

A 1982 UN treaty allows land-locked countries like Bolivia to use sea routes including providing paid services such as ship registry.

Maldivian and Indian forces earlier were shadowing the vessel but did not board it, a defense spokesperson in Male said.

The Maldivian authorities said they were alerted to the hijacking by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, the emergency communications system for global shipping, which maintains an operation in the Maldives.

In November, the Maldives announced it was working with Sri Lanka and India on a strategy to deal with Somali pirates. The Maldives had arrested 37 Somali pirates who were drifting near the archipelago.

Sri Lanka has also arrested an unspecified number of Somali pirates.

Two decades of lawlessness have carved up Somalia into mini-fiefdoms ruled by gunmen and militia, encouraging rampant piracy.

At least 40 vessels and more than 400 hostages were still being held in or just off Somalia at the end of last year, according to the Ecoterra International group which monitors piracy in the region.