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Somali Pirates Release South Pacific Sailors

Twelve South Pacific islanders taken hostage by Somali pirates earlier this year have been released. The men were seized off the east African coast and have been set free after their employer reportedly paid a ransom.

Eleven crew members from the tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu and one from Fiji were abducted off the Horn of Africa in early April. They were captured along with sailors from Ukraine and Germany.

The kidnapping was part of a series of attacks on foreign vessels by well-armed Somali gunmen. The pirates reportedly demanded a ransom of $15 million. There are reports that the owners of the German vessel, the Hansa Stavanger, paid about $2.5 million in ransom, although the company has not confirmed this.

The plight of sailors caused immense anxiety in Tuvalu, an isolated nation of just 12,000 people in the Pacific Ocean north of Fiji.

About 40 percent of Tuvaluan men work on overseas freighters and their wages provide valuable income for their families back home.

Reverend Tafue Lusama, a Tuvalu clergyman, says there will be great relief that the men are on the way home.

"They have been held for around five months now and that is a very long time for our people to be held hostage. In the past five months our country - everyone in our country - has been on their toes praying and hoping and doing everything possible to get them released. Now they are being released, I just simply thank God for that," said Lusama.

There have been more than 130 pirate attacks on foreign ships off the Somali coast this year despite increased patrols by various international governments, including the United States, France and Australia.

It is unclear how much ransom money has been paid by shipping companies to free abducted crews and seized vessels.

Negotiations are often carried out in secrecy to avoid compromising the safety of hostages.

In Tuvalu, large celebrations are expected to greet the sailors when they return to their homes.