*Data collected by GMANews.TV.MANILA, Philippines — Somali pirates released three more Filipino seamen and the entire crew of a ship after their employer paid ransom, the Associated Press reported on Sunday, quoting Belgian officials.
The Filipinos were among the 10-member crew of the Belgian dredger Pompei, which pirates seized on April 18 near Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, the report said.
The 10-member crew of the dredger was in good health and was sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor where it will arrive in a few days, the government said. The crew members will then fly home to their families.
Defense Minister Pieter De Crem told a news conference in Brussels, Belgium that the ship's owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded $8 million.
A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel Saturday, De Crem said. About 10 pirates on board abandoned the ship early Sunday.
The ship, its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians were seized April 18 about 600 km (373 miles) north of the Seychelles islands as they were sailing from Dubai to South Africa.
Seychelles is a nation of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, about 1,500 kilometers east of mainland Africa, northeast of the island of Madagascar.
Based on the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs’ tally, the release of the three seamen has brought down the number of Filipinos still being held by Somali pirates to 44 on board three ships.
The two confirmed remaining vessels are the WinFar 161, hijacked last April 6 with 17 Filipinos, and MV Irene, hijacked April 15 with 22 Filipinos. A third unnamed vessel is presumed to have five Filipino crew.
Since January, Somali pirates have seized about 295 Filipino seafarers on board 18 ships along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since January.
A GMANews.TV tally based on records of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) showed that 245 of the hostages have been released after their ship owners paid ransom to pirates.
Of the 44 hostages on board three ships who are still being held by their captors, three were seized only on June 13 on board the New Zealand-flagged vessel MV Charelle.
Filipinos are considered as the most vulnerable to sea pirates around the world’s sea lanes because they represent a third of the world’s seafarers.
The pirates took the ship to the Somali coast where they and the crew stayed on board.
Belgian officials said the ship's owners negotiated the release with a middleman who sometimes passed on messages from the captain.
The pirates even contacted the crew's family members once to prove that they were still alive.
De Crem said the government had considered military intervention to seize the ship, but decided that it was "not desirable" because it could endanger the crew.
Despite international navy patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline. Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years.
Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August, when the rough weather subsides, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.
Belgian prosecutors said an attack on a Belgian ship in international waters was a crime that they would investigate. Belgian police will interview the crew and check the ship for forensic and DNA evidence when it reaches harbor, they said.
"We think there is a chance" that some of the pirates might be caught and brought to justice, federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told reporters. They could face up to 30 years in jail. - GMANews.TV and AP