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Korean fishing boat released from 4 months' captivity in Somalia

   NAIROBI, Kenya  (Yonhap) -- A South Korean fishing vessel with 43 sailors aboard, including two South Koreans, was released after four months of captivity in Somalia on Wednesday (local time), Seoul's foreign ministry and a local industry source in Kenya said.

   The 241-ton trawler Keummi 305, which was hijacked by Somali pirates on Oct. 9, and all the crew members were freed around 9 a.m. local time (3 p.m. Korean time), the source told Yonhap News Agency, citing a phone conversation with one of the 39 Kenyan sailors aboard. The crew also included two Chinese.

   The foreign ministry in Seoul confirmed the release, saying the vessel was heading toward international waters.

   A naval ship belonging to the European Union flotilla conducting anti-piracy operations in the region was traveling toward the fishing vessel to provide it with escort at the request of South Korea, the ministry said in a statement.

   It did not provide further details, including why the pirates freed the vessel.

   "My understanding is that the ship's company has not paid any ransom," a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. "We need to find out more about the circumstances of the release."

   But the source in Nairobi said the pirates appear to have released the ship because they saw little chance of receiving a ransom and it was difficult for them to feed the hostages.

   The release came about three weeks after South Korean naval commandos rescued the 11,500-ton freighter Samho Jewelry in a daring operation that killed eight pirates and captured five others. All 21 crew members were rescued alive, though the ship's caption was shot several times and seriously wounded.

   The captured pirates were brought to South Korea for investigation and trial.

   Under South Korean law, the pirates could be sentenced to at least five years in prison for hijacking the ship and life imprisonment or even death for shooting at the captain from a close distance.

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