SOMALI pirates have released seven Danes, including a family of five, who were taken hostage in February, Denmark’s foreign ministry has announced.
“The seven Danes have been released and brought to safety,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that all were well and would return to Denmark soon.
Denmark gave no details of their release but maritime monitoring group Ecoterra International said a ransom was dropped by aircraft, and local Somali sources claimed up to four million US dollars had been paid for their release.
Jan Qvist Johansen, his wife Birgit Marie and their three children aged 13 to 17 left Denmark in August 2009 on a round-the-world trip by yacht.
They had initially planned to return at the end of this summer.
They and their two Danish crew had been sailing about 500 kilometres off the coast of Somalia when they were seized by pirates on February 24.
“Mediation was going on between the pirates and individuals working on their release in the past two weeks,” said Abduwahab Ali, an elder in the coastal village of Bandarbeyla, close to pirate bases in the northern Puntland region.
“They were finally freed after the pirates agreed for a ransom of three million dollars,” he said.
A Somali pirate who gave his name as Guhad said he had heard “the Danish family was released with a ransom payment between three and four million dollars after long mediation talks”.
The couple were criticised in Denmark after their abuduction, accused of acting irresponsibly by taking their children into pirate-infested waters.
According to the family’s travel blog, they were well aware of the danger and were trying to take measures to avoid an attack.
“We… set up an anti-piracy plan to know what to do if we are attacked, and each day we send our position” to an international naval force monitoring the Indian Ocean, father Jan posted on the blog on February 19.
The Danish foreign ministry said on Wednesday the pirates were still holding six sailors, two Danes and four Filippinos, from the cargo ship Leopard, which was seized in January.
“Danish authorities are following this matter very closely,” the ministry said.
Somali pirates frequently seize crew from merchant ships in the dangerous waters off the conflict-ravaged country and have taken millions of dollars in ransoms for their release.