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Original Message SIX Somali pirates who hijacked a Saudi supertanker drowned with their share of the ransom when their boat capsized as it left the vessel, their leader said yesterday.

Four others were missing with their share of the $3m payoff, which been parachuted on to the tanker on Friday, Mohamed Said said by phone from the port of Harardhere.

“The small boat that was carrying those killed and eight who survived was overloaded . . . they were afraid of a chase from outsiders [foreign navies of the combined maritime forces],” he said.

Mohamud Aden, a resident of the port off which the tanker had been anchored watched by the warships, said: “The capsize was an accident. The pirates were full of joy and partially frightened by the presence of foreign war machines and were speeding. That was a tragedy for the pirates.”

In all, several dozen raiders had held the ship and its 25-member crew, including two Britons, to ransom. They were well-armed and disciplined but as soon as they got the ransom a shootout nearly broke out, it was reported.

The 1,080ft Sirius Star, owned by Aramco, is the largest vessel hijacked by the Somali pirates. It was seized in November in the Indian Ocean, well outside the raiders’ usual operating area.

The tanker was carrying 2m barrels of oil, more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output and worth an estimated $100m. Its capture was seen as a dramatic demonstration of the pirates’ ability to strike hundreds of miles offshore.

The tanker’s crew included second officer Jim Grady, from Renfrewshire, and chief engineer Peter French, from Co Durham. Yesterday they were looking forward to coming home, though latest reports said the ship was still anchored off Harardhere.

More than 100 ships were attacked off the Horn of Africa last year and maritime officials said the problem was out of control. The pirates were said to have raked in $120m and still hold some 14 merchant ships and 300 crew.

The Sirius Star’s release came as the US Fifth Fleet announced that a taskforce targeting piracy would be launching later this month.

Nato and the European Union have warships in the Gulf and the Chinese navy has said it will assist.

[link to www.timesonline.co.uk]
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