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Somali Pirates Have Rare Request For Ship Release

By MarEx 2012-03-07 12:02:22

Last month, a Panama-flagged vessel transporting goods to Somaliland was hijacked and held by Somali pirates. The pirates are now demanding that fellow pirates being held in jails in the breakaway territory be freed in order for the ship’s safe return. Somaliland has been independent from Somalia since 1991 and maintains relative stability, but remains internationally unrecognized.

One member in the pirate gang holding the MV Leila told a local news outlet that aside from a small ransom for the vessel, they are also requesting that Somaliland authorities release their comrades. The man states that the ship will not be released until all pirate prisoners are released. They are upset with the 20-year sentences given in Somaliland, when in Yemen a 7-year sentence is sufficient.

Allegedly, this hijacking was intended as a message to alert businesses and government officials to release the imprisoned pirates. The typical ransom for this merchant vessel is not an issue at the moment; a prisoner swap is a rare and new development.

Reuters states that Somaliland's parliament recently passed new legislation recognizing piracy as a crime and allowing pirates convicted abroad to be transferred to the enclave, in a move to signal its commitment to fighting maritime attacks off Somalia's shores. Piracy crimes now carry a maximum sentence of 25 years, when the prior charge was armed robbery. There are over 100 suspected pirates in the area’s jails.

Some sources believe that the seized MV Leila was being held in Bargal, a pirate-infested region in northern Somalia. Somaliland’s Chamber of Commerce appealed to traditional elders in Bargal, Puntland in an effort to free the vessel. Some of the goods onboard the ship are some small business’s entire capital.

Separately, the International Maritime Bureau said on Tuesday that pirates hijacked a tanker with 22 crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea on March 2 and sailed the vessel towards Somalia. No further details were immediately available.