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Somali pirates free Malaysian tugboat
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Somali pirates have freed a Malaysian tugboat after holding it for eight months, a regional maritime official confirmed on Monday.

Andrew Mwangura, East Africa's Coordinator of Seafarers Assistance Program (SAP) said the Masindra 7 was freed on Sunday with all 11 Indonesian crew members.

"Masinga 7 was released on Sunday by Somali pirates. The pirates have been holding the vessel since mid-December last year and all the 11 Indonesian crew members are fine," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone.

Mwangura said the Masindra 7 which belongs to a Malaysian company, Masindra Shipping Limited, is sailing to Male, the capital of Maldives. The pirates currently hold around a dozen ships.

Mwangura said a ransom was paid for the release of the vessel which was captured on December 16, 2008 on its way back to Malaysia from Mukallah in Yemen, where it had been operated under a contract from French oil-giant TOTAL.

Piracy has become rampant off the coast of Africa, especially in the waters near Somalia which has been without an effective government since 1991.

Ransoms started out in the tens of thousands of dollars and have since climbed to millions.

An estimated 25,000 ships annually cruise the Gulf of Aden off the Somali northern coast. Over 10 ships and 200 crew members are still held by Somali pirates.

The Gulf of Aden has the highest risk of piracy in the world. About 25,000 ships use the channel.

(Xinhua News Agency August 3, 2009)

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