MOGADISHU (REUTERS) - Somali pirates have freed 26 Asian sailors held captive in a small fishing village for more than four years since their ship was hijacked in the Indian Ocean, a government official said on Saturday (Oct 22).
The sailors - from China, the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan - were seized close to the Seychelles in February 2012, a time when pirate attacks were a regular occurrence in waters linking Europe with Africa and Asia.
"The crew is here (in Galkayo). They will be flown to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on Saturday," local mayor Hirsi Yusuf Barre, told Reuters. "The crew did not say if ransom was paid," he added.
Barre said the ship's captain was killed in the hijacking, while two others died from illness during their time in captivity - one of the longest among hostages seized by pirates in the Horn of Africa nation.
A local security official said their vessel had sunk in unknown circumstances.
The sailors were held in Dabagala near the village of Harardheere some 400km north-east of the capital Mogadishu, a fishing hamlet that became known as Somalia's main pirate base at the height of the crisis.
Although there are still occasional cases of sea attacks, piracy off Somalia's coast has subsided in the past three years, mainly due to shipping firms hiring private security details and the presence of international warships.
The last outbreak of piracy cost the world's shipping industry billions of dollars as pirates paralysed shipping lanes, kidnapped hundreds of seafarers and seized vessels more than 1,000 miles from Somalia's coastline.