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Somali forces free pirate hostages

  • Story Highlights
  • Eleven hostages freed, 10 pirates captured off Somalia, official says
  • Forces from semi-autonomous region attacked seized ship
  • Pirates hijacked the Wail last Thursday
  • Pirate attacks off Somalia are about double 2007 levels, UK-based group says
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(CNN) -- Somali forces on Tuesday freed the 11-man crew of a hijacked ship and captured the 10 pirates who seized the vessel last week, according to the foreign minister for Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of northern Somalia.

Puntland's coast guard and Rescue Commando Forces raided the Panama-flagged ship -- the Wail -- in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), Puntland Foreign Minister Ali Abdi Aware told CNN.

Ten pirates hijacked the ship, with its crew of two Somalis and nine Syrians, Thursday night, Aware said.

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All 11 are safe, he said. Two coast guard members sustained minor injuries in the rescue operation.

It was the Puntland forces' second attempt to free the ship. On Sunday, their rescue effort triggered a gun battle that left two pirates and a Puntland soldier dead.

The Wail was hijacked while it was heading from Oman to the Somali coastal town of Bosasso -- located in Puntland.

It was one of more than 60 ships that have been attacked by pirates off the Somali coast this year alone, compared with about half that in 2007, according to a report released earlier this month by Chatham House, a London-based institute that analyzes international affairs.

Pirates are still holding a Ukrainian ship carrying Soviet-made tanks, artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms off Somalia's coast and are demanding a $20 million ransom. The MV Faina was seized in late September and is being monitored by nearby U.S. naval ships.

Puntland -- which declared its independence from war-wracked Somalia a decade ago but is not internationally recognized -- wants the international community to do more to combat the problem, Aware said.

Last week, NATO defense ministers agreed to send ships to waters near Somalia's coast to deter and combat piracy there.

"There will soon be NATO military vessels off the coast of Somalia, deterring piracy and escorting food ships," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Thursday.

Ships carrying United Nations' food aid to Somalia are already protected by Canadian military vessels, but the temporary arrangement ends next week.

Earlier this month, a handful of European Union defense ministers agreed to accelerate an EU military naval operation to fight piracy off Somalia's coast.

The Puntland official also condemned foreign countries for paying ransom to the pirates because it would only encourage more piracy.

"When ransom is paid once, the next time there is another piracy incident the ransom will only increase," Aware said.

The Chatham House report found the $18 million to $30 million in ransoms already paid this year is helping to finance the war in Somalia.

One of the groups reportedly receiving ransom money is Al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group that is waging a bloody battle for control of Somalia. Al-Shaabab has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United States.

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