Somali pirates free 11 crew of Malaysian-owned cargo vessel MV Albedo


      Updated    Sun 8 Jun 2014, 9:58am AEST

Eleven sailors held hostage for almost four years by Somali pirates have been freed and are safe on their way to Kenya, according to regional and United Nations officials.

The 11 men freed were part of crew on Malaysian-owned cargo vessel MV Albedo which was hijacked 1,500 kilometres off Somalia in November 2010, while sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Kenya.

The men, who had been held in dire conditions and had been beaten and tortured, hailed from Bangladesh, India, Iran and Sri Lanka.

No ransom is believed to have been paid.

"They are all healthy," Galmudug region's interior minister Abdi Yusuf Hassan said.

John Steed, a former British army colonel who helped negotiate their release, confirmed they had been freed.

"Currently airborne with hostages," Mr Steed said via text message.

During their captivity, one colleague was shot by the pirates in an argument, and five others drowned.

Seven of the ship's 23-man crew were released in 2012, while four others drowned when the ship sank last year.

"The crew members and their families have suffered unimaginable distress," UN special envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay said in a statement.

"The crew underwent the trauma of piracy, their ship sinking, and then being held ashore in very difficult conditions," Mr Kay said.

Exact details of how they were released have not been given, but the UN said they had been handed over to its care, and "will be repatriated to their home countries over the coming days".

Sailors abandoned by their ship's owner

The sailors, like 38 others from different boats who remain captive, were abandoned by their ship's owner whose willingness to pay to free them sank along with their boat.

"While we have seen a significant reduction in piracy off the coast of Somalia in recent years, I remain deeply concerned that 38 other crew members are still being held hostage," Mr Kay said.

Pirate attacks off Somalia have been slashed in recent years, with international fleets patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, as well as armed guards being posted aboard many vessels.

At their peak in January 2011, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 boats, some onshore and others on their vessels.

"I call on those who continue to detain these crew members to release them without further delay so they can rejoin their families and loved ones," Mr Kay said.