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Somali pirates free S. Korean, Thai vessels
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Somali pirates have freed a South Korean and a Thai vessels after more than a month of captivity, a regional maritime official confirmed on Friday.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East Africa Seafarers Assistance Program, said the South Korean bulker Bright Ruby which was seized in the Gulf of Aden on Sept. 10 as it was sailing from Europe to Asia with cargo was freed on Thursday.

Mwangura said the pirates released Thor Star of Thailand and her 28 crew members, 64 days after the vessel was hijacked 160 km off the coast of Yemen in early August.

The 1985-built vessel was released by its captors in Somalia early Tuesday. No details were given about whether any ransom had been paid to release the vessel and crew.

"The MV Bright Ruby of South Korea was freed on Thursday by pirates while the Thor Star was released a day earlier," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone. Mwangura said the Thai-flagged ship is heading towards an unnamed port in the Middle East where the crew, which are reported to be in good spirits, will be debriefed and undergo medical checks and be offered psychological counseling before being flown home.

"It's not clear whether the ransom was paid," said Mwangura. He said the South Korean vessel was freed with 22 Asian sailors after more than a month of captivity. It was heading toward a U.S. navy vessel in the area after being set free earlier in the day.

South Korean fishing boats had been previously captured by pirates off Somali coast, and in one instance, sailors were held for more than 100 days before being released.

The surge in attacks has prompted Western warships to establish a security corridor in the gulf patrolled by an international coalition of warships.

The development coincided with protests by families of 18 Indian sailors who have been held captive on a ship by Somali pirates since August.

Warships from several countries are already patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

India announced it is sending naval warships to the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy patrol and the Philippines on Thursday urged foreign ship owners to use safe routes.

More than 30 ships have been seized by pirates this year off the Horn of Africa, including an arms-laden Ukrainian ship.

The hijacking of the vessel carrying a cargo of military hardware heightened concerns over the chaos in a key shipping route and prompted NATO to send warships to help U.S. Navy vessels already patrolling the region.

(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2008)

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