Chaos in Somalia has created a piracy boom in the waters linking Europe to Asia and Africa [Reuters]

Somali pirates have received their highest ransom payment yet - $9.5m for the release of Samho Dream, a South Korean oil supertanker they hijacked in the Indian Ocean in early April this year.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme (SAP-NET), confirmed on Saturday that the supertanker was free, and that a Singapore-registered ship with 19 Chinese sailors on board hijacked in June in the Gulf of Aden had also been released.

"I can confirm Samho Dream is now free, but still in Somali waters," said Mwangura, who is based in the Kenyan Indian Ocean port of Mombasa. "It is a large ship and it's unlikely that it can dock in Mombasa, maybe it will dock somewhere along South Africa's coast or elsewhere to replenish its supplies."

He said the pirates had initially demanded $20m.

The Samho Dream, which can carry more than two million barrels of crude oil, was hijacked and its crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos were taken hostage, while carrying as much as $170m worth of crude oil from Iraq to the United States.

Somalia has lacked an effective central government for almost two decades and is awash with weapons. The mayhem on land has allowed piracy to boom in the strategic waterways off its shores linking Europe to Asia and Africa.

It was not immediately clear how much ransom had been paid for the Singapore-registered Golden Blessing. The ship was seized on its way from Saudi Arabia to India.

Lucrative pirating

Somali pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, despite the efforts of foreign navies to clamp down on such attacks.

The hijacked vessels are taken to the Somali coast and held until money is paid, although negotiations can take months.

One pirate told Reuters that the men were "dividing the ransom and will abandon the ship (soon)".

According to SAP-NET,  Somali pirates are holding 28 vessels with more than 494 hostages.

They've seized commercial ships as well as private yachts, and have geographically broadened the scope of their attacks to include waters closer to India and Oman.

Source: Agencies