February 17, 2011 / 8:06 PM / 9 years ago

Somali rebels detain several pirate gang leaders

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali militants have detained a number of pirate bosses in the coastal town of Haradhere after negotiations over the rebels’ cut of a ransom payout collapsed, pirates and local residents said on Thursday.

Pirate sources said they had come to close to sealing a multi-million dollar ransom deal for the release of two vessels earlier this week before their refusal to give al Shabaab insurgents a 20 percent cut scuppered the talks.

“Al Shabaab arrested four of our ringleaders today after we rejected their demands for 20 percent of the ransom payment,” a pirate who identified himself as Ali told Reuters by telephone from Haradhere.

“There had been negotiations between us and al Shabaab since last night but we were unable to reach a compromise on this.”

Pirate gangs are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the vast Indian Ocean.

Ali said pirate negotiators had been on the verge of securing a deal for the release of the Singapore-flagged MV York, an LPG tanker seized in October, and the bulk carrier Rak Afrikana hijacked last April.

It was not immediately possible to verify that the negotiations concerned those two vessels but both are known to be under pirate control.

Ahmed Wardherre, a local resident, confirmed the militants had snatched the pirate chiefs. “Most of the pirates started fleeing from the town late last night,” he said.

Shipping industry associations have warned that over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil supply passing through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea is at risk from Somali pirates, who are able to operate ever further out to sea and for longer periods, using hijacked vessels as mother ships.

Al Shabaab label Somalia’s government a puppet of the West and have fought a four-year insurgency that has killed at least 21,000 people.

Reporting by Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Sheikh; editing by Richard Lough

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