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Somali pirates leave Greek-operated vessel

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Pirates seized a Greek-operated cargo ship 900 nautical miles off the Somali coast but abandoned it shortly afterwards, the vessel’s manager said Monday.

The pirates left the MV Lugela about day after boarding it Saturday and finding that the Ukrainian crew had locked themselves in the engine room, the foreign ministry in Kiev said.

The Lugela, which has a deadweight of 4,281 tonnes, had a crew of 12 Ukrainians and was sailing towards Mauritius with a cargo of steel bars and wires when the pirates attacked.

“As far as we know the pirates have left the ship, which is now sailing to a safe destination,” a senior official at TDM carriers, who declined to be named, told Reuters. “We’ve contacted the crew. They are all safe.”

The European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce, EU Navfor, confirmed the release.

“The captain of the vessel has reported that the crew reacted quickly and locked themselves in the engine room. Thus they did not allow the pirates to take them hostage,” Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Serhiy Sayenko said.

“The pirates had stayed aboard the vessel for a bit more than a day and then left it.”

Sayenko said the ship had has set off towards its original destination after a technical check. No one was injured.

“The crew followed company safety procedures,” said Andrew Mwangura, a Kenya-based maritime official.

Typically, crews will lock themselves in a safe room and disable the engines when hijackers attack.

EU Navfor said earlier that the Panama-flagged vessel had sent a distress alert to its Greek operator early Saturday.

Somali pirates have been seizing ships for ransom for several years. The vessels are usually taken to the Somali coast where they are held until money is paid, although negotiations can take months.

The London-headquartered International Maritime Bureau said 27 of the 31 successful hijackings in the first six months of 2010 were off the coast of Somalia or in the Gulf of Aden.

Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens, Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Editing by David Clarke/Giles Elgood