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NAIROBI, Kenya — Forces of Somalia's semiautonomous Puntland region raided a hijacked ship and safely rescued 22 hostages who had been held captive for nearly three years, authorities said Sunday.
A statement from the Puntland government said their forces captured the Panama-flagged MV Iceberg 1 which was docked near the Gara'ad coastal village in Mudung region.
The rescued crew members include eight Yemenis, five Indians, two Pakistanis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, and a Philippine, Puntland Ports and Anti-piracy minister Saeed Mohamed Rage told The Associated Press. The ship was hijacked March 29, 2010.
Close to 120 seafarers are still held by Somali pirates, although that number is considerably down from the height of the piracy crisis two years ago, when more than 600 hostages were held at once.
Hijackings by Somali pirates have significantly reduced in the last couple of years because many ships now carry armed guards and there is an international naval armada that carries out onshore raids. In 2010, pirates seized 47 vessels; so far this year they've taken five, a decrease that could signify that the scourge is ending, although experts say it is too early to declare victory.
The overwhelming majority of hostages have been sailors on merchant ships, though European families have also been kidnapped from their yachts while traveling in the dangerous Indian Ocean coastal waters. Four Americans were killed in February 2011 when the pirates who boarded their ship apparently became trigger-happy because of nearby U.S. warships.
For the pirates, the risks of being arrested, killed or lost at sea are overshadowed by the potential for huge payouts. Ransoms for large ships in recent years have averaged close to $5 million. The largest reported ransom was $11 million for the Greek oil tanker MV Irene SL last year.
The ransoms are often air-dropped down to hijacked ships.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since longtime dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991 by warlords who then turned on each other.