ROME — An Italian navy ship on Saturday came to the aid of a merchant vessel released by Somali pirates after over seven months in captivity, with news reports saying a ransom was dropped from a small plane.
"Considering what they have lived through, the crew are well," said Gualtiero Mattesi, an admiral who also heads NATO's anti-piracy operation "
Ocean Shield, speaking from the navy destroyer on the scene.
"Military teams today boarded the 'Rosalia D'Amato' to guarantee the safety of the crew," he said, adding that the ship was still in Somali waters but would head out once the necessary checks have been carried out.
Reports that the ship with six Italians and 15 Filipinos on board had been released surfaced on Friday but were only confirmed on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi voiced "strong satisfaction" over the release, saying it had been "a painful experience."
The 225-metre (738-foot) vessel belonging to Naples-based Perseveranza had been on its way from Brazil to Iran with a cargo of soybeans when it was seized by pirates off the coast of Oman on April 21 and taken back to Somalia.
"In five or six days the crew will probably be back in Italy," Carlo Miccio, a representative of Perseveranza, told reporters.
Corriere della Sera daily quoted ship captain Orazio Lanza as saying: "We've lost a bit of weight but all in all we're okay."
The newspaper said a ransom had been paid but did not specify the sum, saying only that it was dropped onto the ship by a plane.
Somali pirates still hold at least 27 large vessels, 19 smaller ones and a total of more than 450 seafarers, according to Ecoterra International, a non-governmental group monitoring maritime activity in the region.
Among the ships still hijacked is the Savina Caylyn, a tanker operated by another Naples-based shipowner and hijacked in February with a crew of five Italians and 17 Indians.
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