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Somali pirates release crew after 10 months

It has been a busy couple of days for the EU Naval Force flagship ESPS Méndez Núnez.

The Spanish warship, which is conducting counter-piracy patrols off the Somali coast, provided protection, this time to the Liberian-flagged supertanker MV Smyrni, after it was released Monday from Somali pirate control, according to EU NAVFOR.

MV Smyrni, with a crew of 26, was carrying 135,000 tons of crude oil when it was hijacked on May 11, 2012. After 10 months in a pirate anchorage off the Somali coast, it was reported that an undetermined ransom was paid for the vessel. On Sunday, the tanker’s armed captors released it.

Two days earlier, after a year as hostages, the crew of the Panamanian-flagged chemical tanker MV Royal Grace was released by its Somali pirate captors in the Gulf of Oman.

Last Friday, the ESPS Mendez Nunez was conducting counter-piracy patrols 20 nautical miles off the northern Somali coast when its crew saw the MV Royal Grace sailing north from her pirate anchorage at a speed of 4 knots, according to DefenceWeb, Africa’s defense and security news portal. An undetermined ransom amount was reportedly paid.

"We got off the vessel late last night. We happily divided the cash among ourselves," a pirate who identified himself only as Ismail told Reuters by telephone.

Shortly afterward, ESPS Méndez Núñez received a radio call from the master of MV Royal Grace, who confirmed that his ship was now free of pirates and that his 20-man crew was in need of food, water and medical assistance.

ESPS Méndez Núnez dispatched boarding and medical teams to the Royal Grace. They gave the crew food and water and provided two crewmembers with medical treatment.

MV Royal Grace is en route to Muscat, the capital of Oman, under the watchful eye of another EU Naval Force warship, ESPS Rayo.

In 2011, Somali pirates preying on the waterways linking Europe with Africa and Asia netted $160 million and cost the world economy about $7 billion, according to U.S.-based think tank One Earth Future foundation.

The number of successful pirate attacks has since fallen dramatically as international navies have stepped up patrols to protect marine traffic and struck at pirate bases on the Somali coast, prodded by soaring shipping costs, including insurance.

Click here for a report about the incident by The Maritime Executive that includes multiple photos.