UPDATE 2-Somali pirates release Greek-owned ship, ransom paid
* Piracy monitoring group confirms ransom, but not amount
* All 24 Filipino crew safe
* Somali authorities seek to send Iranian sailors home
(Adds details on Iranian sailors)
By Mohamed Ahmed
MOGADISHU, April 24 (Reuters) - Somali pirates have freed a Greek-owned, Cyprus-flagged ship they seized in January after receiving a ransom, pirates and a piracy monitoring group said.
The pirates said they had released MV Eagle, a 52,163 deadweight tonne merchant vessel and its crew of 24 Filipinos that was seized in January about 500 miles south-west of Oman, while it was en route to India from Jordan. [ID:nLDE70G0Z9]
Pirates said they received a $6 million ransom for the ship's release.
"We have received our $6 million .... The ship has just started to sail away from our zone with a warship," a pirate who gave his name as Kalif told Reuters by phone from the coastal town of El-Dhanane.
The amount could not be verified but Ecoterra, an advocacy group monitoring piracy in the Indian Ocean, confirmed a ransom was paid.
"After having received a hefty ransom for the old bulk carrier, Somali buccaneers released the Greek-owned and Cypriot-flagged MV Eagle. Vessel and crew made their way to safe waters," it said in a statement.
Two decades of conflict in Somalia have allowed piracy to flourish off the lawless nation's shores.
Pirates typically do not kill crews held hostage in the expectation of receiving a ransom for a vessel's release.
Separately, Somali government officials said they were caring for 14 Iranian sailors who were released after a botched naval rescue earlier in the week in which three pirates and one Iranian seaman died. [ID:nLDE73K0DB]
It is yet to be determined which nation's navy carried out the rescue attempt, as well as what vessel was involved. Pirates are holding around 11 Iranian fishing vessels, according to information from Ecoterra.
"We have 14 Iranian crew in Galkaayo and we want to hand them over to Iran," Ahmed Mohamed Basto, the spokesman of Galmudug state, a regional administration in central Somalia recognised by the Transitional Federal Government.
"We are contacting Iranian embassies so that they go with them."
Pirate gangs are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms. Despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean owing to the vast distances involved.
The economic cost of piracy has been estimated at $7 billion to $12 billion per year, with shippers facing rising insurance costs that threaten to raise commodity prices. [ID:nLDE7191MO]
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