Somali pirates released the MV Asphalt Venture, a Panama-flag oil tanker, after almost seven months of captivity but later reneged on their agreement to free the entire 15-member crew, all Indian.
“Despite concluding a dialogue with the pirates for the full release of crew and vessel, and payment of the ransom, six officers and one rating were taken off the tanker and were made to accompany the pirates,” ship operator OMCI Ship Management said in a statement.
According to reports from Somalia, the pirates were unhappy with the amount of ransom they received (reportedly $3.6 million) and were making yet another attempt to extract more money.
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Reports also said these Indian sailors were being held hostage in a bid to exert pressure on Indian authorities to release pirates captured by the Navy and Coast Guard during recent anti-piracy raids in the Arabian Sea.
The 3,884-deadweight-ton Asphalt Venture, reportedly built in 1991, was taken by pirates some 100 nautical miles southeast of Dar es Salaam Sept. 28, 2010, while on passage from Mombasa, Kenya, to Durban, South Africa.
"All the appropriate international and Indian authorities have been alerted to the situation, and all steps to try to re-establish contact with the pirates to secure the release of those still being held and now reported to be on-shore (are being taken)," the company said.
Following a spurt in piracy incidents off the Indian coast in recent months, the Navy and Coast Guard have intensified patrols along the Lakshadweep Islands and managed to arrest about 120 Somali pirates.
According to latest official figures, African pirates as of mid-March were estimated to be holding captive 53 Indian crew members on five foreign-flag ships.