MOGADISHU, Somalia – The body of a Somali pirate who drowned just after receiving a huge ransom washed onshore with $153,000 in cash, a resident said Sunday, as the spokesman for another group of pirates promised to soon free a Ukrainian arms ship.
Five pirates drowned Friday when their small boat capsized after they received a reported $3 million ransom for releasing a Saudi oil tanker. Local resident Omar Abdi Hassan said one of the bodies had been found on a beach near the coastal town of Haradhere and relatives were searching for the other four.
"One of them was discovered and they are still looking for the other ones. He had $153,000 in a plastic bag in his pocket," he said Sunday.
But five of the dozens of pirates who had hijacked the tanker drowned when their small boat capsized as they returned to shore in rough weather. Three other pirates survived but also lost their share of the ransom.
Graeme Gibbon Brooks, managing director of the British company Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service Ltd, said the incident was unlikely to deter attacks.
"The loss or potential loss of the ransom means the pirates will be all the more keen to get the next ransom in," he said. "There are people lining up to be pirates."
The Sirius Star had been held near the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, which was loaded with 33 Soviet-designed battle tanks and crates of small arms. The same day the Sirius Star was released, the family members of the Faina crew appealed for help, saying they were not being kept informed about the negotiations or the state of their loved ones' health.
But a pirate spokesman assured The Associated Press on Sunday that the 20 crew members on the MV Faina were doing well.
"The cargo is still there unharmed and the crew is healthy," Sugule Ali said. "Once the negotiations end in mutual understanding, the ship, its crew and the cargo as well will be released."
There have been several false alarms about the release of the MV Faina since it was seized last September. Ali said the pirates were still negotiating with the ship's owners.
"Nothing has changed from our previous demand of $20 million ransom for the release of the ship, but as negotiations continue we are likely to reduce the amount," he said. He declined to give further details.
American warships have been closely monitoring the Faina amid fears that some of the weapons onboard could be taken onshore and fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.
The latest clashes among Islamist militias have killed at least 29 people and wounded more than 50 others in central Somalia, witnesses said Sunday. The government now only controls the parliamentary seat of Baidoa and pockets of Mogadishu, the capital.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and its lawless coastline is a perfect haven for pirates, who attacked 111 ships in the Gulf of Aden and kidnapped 42 of them last year alone. The multimillion dollar ransoms are one of the only ways to make money in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation.
An international flotilla including U.S. warships has been patrolling the area. The flotilla has stopped many attacks, but the area is too vast to keep all ships safe.