Somali pirates have released the Danish coaster M/V Leopard after two years in captivity, a Kenyan maritime official said on Wednesday.
Seafarers’ Union of Kenya Secretary General Andrew Mwangura said the vessel which was captured in January 2011 was released on Tuesday with six member crew.
“The two Danish and the four Philippine seamen have very recently been released off the Somali coast and are now in safe surroundings,” Mwangura said.
The latest information comes as the number of attacks off the coast of Somalia related to Somali pirates has reduced drastically with five incidents being reported in the first quarter of 2013 including the hijacking of a fishing vessel and its 20-member crew.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) has however warned of complacency in its latest quarterly report for January-March, saying the risk of being approached or attacked still exists.
“Although the number of acts of piracy reported in Somalia has significantly decreased, there can be no room for complacency,” IMB Director Pottengal Mukundan said on April 15.
Mukundan said the drop in reported attacks is due to proactive naval actions against suspect Pirate Action Groups, the employment of privately contracted armed security personnel and the preventive measures used by the merchant vessels (as per latest Best Management Practices recommendations).
The Danish owned vessel was attacked by pirates while underway on Jan. 12, 2011. During the attack two Danish sailors and four Filipino crew members of the vessel were kidnapped from the ship and taken ashore in Somalia.
Later the ship and cargo of weapons was recovered by NATO warships by, but there was no indication of the crew’s whereabouts.
The MV Leopard is operated by a weapons and hazardous cargo transport firm called Ship Craft. The registered owner of the 1, 780 DWT ship is the Danish based Lodestar Ship Holding Limited.
The vessel was discovered without its crew by combined naval forces after receiving a distress call from the crew.
The cargo of weapons was intact. It is believed that the crew disabled the engines of the ship to keep the sensitive cargo from being transported to the Somali mainland.
Five vessels remain in pirate hands — the MV Albedo, a Taiwanese owned Oman flagged fishing boat NAHAN 3, the DPRK flagged Chilsanbong Cheonnyeonhoch and two dhows.
Pirates still hold at least 165 hostages, a steep fall from the 212 being held in June last year. However, seven crew members of the Panama flagged MT Asphalt Venture are still being held ashore.
Somali pirates tend to be well armed with automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and sometimes use skiffs launched from mother vessels, which may be hijacked fishing vessels or dhows, to conduct attacks far from the Somali coast.
Since Somali piracy is largely a hijack-for-ransom business, it relies heavily on onshore support for infrastructure that provides food, water, fuel and the leafy narcotic khat to the militiamen who guard the hijacked ships throughout the ransom negotiation process.
The Horn of Africa has itself also suffered considerably from the impact of piracy. Increased trade costs are estimated to cost the country 6 million U.S. dollars annually; and this figure does not take into account that Somalia cannot develop and expand its maritime trade and fisheries as long as pirates are allowed to operate in its waters.