Sri Lankan crew on hijacked vessel freed without ransom

Indo Asian News Service

Colombo, March 17 (IANS) Eight Sri Lankan crew members of a fuel tanker, hijacked off the coast of Somalia earlier this week, have been released unharmed without a ransom payment.

Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha De Silva told a press conference in Colombo that the crew had been released on Friday morning and he thanked all countries who had helped coordinate the safe release of the crew.

"We thank the US government and the President of Puntland, the semi-autonomous region of Somalia in whose waters the hijacking took place," De Silva said.

The minister also thanked the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Atul Keshap for taking up the matter with Washington, as well as with the EU, the Combined Maritime Force and the Sri Lanka Navy, Xinhua news agency reported.

"This task would not have been made possible without their unstinted and active effort," De Silva said.

"The US took up the matter with the Puntland administration and got the men released. The combined Maritime Force also persuaded the Puntland Army to stop firing on the tanker as it would endanger the lives of the captives on board," De Silva said.

The Aris 13, a Comoros-flagged tanker, was en route from the Somali capital Mogadishu to Djibouti, Somalia's northern neighbor, when it went missing off the coast near a town called Alula.

It was the first major hijacking in the east African nation in almost five years. International media reports had said that the pirates had demanded an undisclosed ransom for the vessel's return.