Somali Pirates Free Boat Set for Sakhalin

Pirates on Tuesday released a tugboat that was captured off the coast of Somalia last month as it sailed from St. Petersburg to Gazprom's Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project in the Far East.

"Master and crew took command of the Svitzer Korsakov and sailed north," Pat Adamson, a spokesman for Svitzer, which owns the vessel, said Tuesday from London. A military ship from a multinational task force will escort the boat to a port, which has yet to be determined, he said.

The pirates provided the crew with food and water and communicated with Svitzer regularly through the master, a British citizen, Adamson said. The four crewmen are Russian and the chief engineer is Irish. The boat was seized Feb. 1.

African pirates are attacking more often and more violently, in part because of unrest in Somalia and Nigeria, Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said. Some 263 attacks were reported last year, 10 percent more than in 2006, after a decline over the previous three years, he said. More than three dozen have occurred this year.

Svitzer, which had never experienced a hijacking before, declined to comment on reports that a $700,000 ransom was paid. "It could only serve to encourage pirates and put the victims of attacks in more danger," Adamson said.

Ivan Chernyakhovsky, a spokesman for the Sakhalin-2 project operator, Sakhalin Energy, declined to comment, saying rights to the tugboat had not been transferred.

The Navy should return to patrolling the oceans and work with NATO to fight piracy, a naval spokesman said last month.