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The U.S. Navy, which has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region, said the release meant no ships were being held by Somali pirates for the first time in more than a year. "The police have arrested two of the pirates with their guns and they are tracking down the rest," said Ali Abdi Aware, the rural affairs minister in Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northeast Somalia. "We have sent troops to the Puntland's coastal areas to chase the fugitives and bring them before the justice."
The chemical tanker was carrying up to 10,000 tons of highly explosive benzene when it was seized on Oct. 28.
Earlier this week, a maritime official in neighboring Kenya said the pirates had threatened to kill the crew unless a $1 million ransom was paid. And a Somali pirate, Abdi Yusuf, who said he had been on board the Golden Nori, told The Associated Press from hiding that a ransom was paid — but he would not say how much. The claim could not be independently verified.
The ship's Japanese owner, Dorval Kaiun K.K., however, said the release was a result of "our persistent negotiation effort, with the help of U.S. and British navies."
Somali pirates, who have hijacked more than two dozen ships this year, are trained fighters and in some cases linked to the powerful Somali clans. They are outfitted with sophisticated arms and GPS devices that lead them to merchant ships, vessels carrying aid, and once even a cruise ship.
The motivation often is money to supply the country's complex clan system, which has been the basis of politics and identity here for centuries. The weak government is using what resources it has to fight a bloody Islamic insurgency, meaning pirate ships can cruise the ragged coastline freely.
The U.S. Navy came to the aid of the tanker soon after its seizure, with the guided missile destroyer USS Porter at one point opening fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to it. The U.S. military has recently intervened to help other ships hijacked by Somali pirates.