Kenya's maritime officials confirmed Sunday that Somali pirates have freed a ship and its crew after holding them hostage for almost one month off Somalia's north-east coast.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Kenyan Seafarers' Association Program said the Maltese-flagged San Carlos and its 24-member crew which was seized on October 20 as it made its way to South Africa was released on Saturday and resumed its course to its destination.
"Information we have received indicates that the San Carlos was released on Saturday that it is making its way to its original destination, which is South Africa," Mwangura said by telephone.
However, the official could not disclose under what circumstances the vessel was freed, saying ransom may have been paid to secure its freedom.
"I don't know whether any ransom was paid, but I am sure that some compensation would have been given to the gunmen for them to release the ship," he said.
Piracy has increased in the unprotected waters off the Somalis with the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) warning ships to stay 200 nautical miles off the Somali coast.
According to the IMB, there have been more than 25 hijackings and attempted seizures of vessels by Somali pirates since March.
Sporadic piracy has been taking place off the coast of Somalia for at least a decade, with several incidents reported each year.
But it is unclear why there has been such a dramatic increase since the beginning of the year.
Some shipping companies allege that a coalition maritime unit called Combined Task Force 150 that includes personnel made up of United States, Germany, and France recently stopped or slowed down its patrols in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean, and other waters.
They say pirates have become bolder as a result.
Somalia has had no functioning central administration for the past 14 years and last month the prime minister of the country's fledgling and largely powerless transitional government appealed for help from neighboring countries to patrol its waters.