Published: October 15, 2007

The Associated Press


SEOUL, South Korea: Talks between a South Korean shipowner and Somali pirates who abducted 24 of his crew have stalled on the size of the ransom being demanded by their captors, a South Korean official said Monday.

Four South Korean fishermen were aboard two South Korean-owned vessels along with 20 other crew of various nationalities when they were seized off Somalia on May 15. The shipowner, Ahn Hyun-su, has been holding direct talks with the Somali pirates to secure their release since, according to South Korean officials.

“As far as we know, negotiations are under way with a focus on their ransom payment, but a final progress has not been reported as differences on the amount (of money) is big,” presidential spokesman Cheon Ho-seon told reporters.

“The government is providing various intelligence and other things that could help the negotiation procedures, but we cannot disclose details.”

According to some South Korean media reports, the Somali pirates have been demanding between US$700,000 (€493,650) and US$1 million (€705,220) in ransom, and the shipowner has been appealing for the South Korean government to help pay the money.

In a press release Sunday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated that it does not pay terrorist organizations for the release of hostages, fearing that doing so would encourage more kidnappings.

The 20 other crew comprised 10 Chinese, three Vietnamese, three Indian and four Indonesian nationals.

They would most likely be freed together with the South Korean fishermen if the South Koreans are released, said a South Korean Foreign Ministry official who refused to give his name, saying he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Somalia lies close to crucial shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, where valuable cargo and carriers must pass.

Somalia has had no effective government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and then turned on each other. The country’s 3,000-kilometer (1,880-mile) coastline makes it difficult to prevent attacks.

Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dress in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.

Last year, another South Korean fishing vessel was captured off Somalia and released three months later after a ransom of more than US$800,000 (€591,000) was paid.