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Somali Pirates Release Saudi Tanker

Somali pirates say they have released a Saudi-owned oil tanker hijacked nearly two months ago in exchange for a $3 million ransom.

A negotiator for the pirates said they freed the ship Friday along with her crew of 25 after receiving the money Thursday. He said the Sirius Star is heading toward "safe waters."

The ship's owner, the shipping arm of the oil giant Saudi Aramco, declined to comment or to confirm the ransom amount.

Reports say the $3 million payment was followed by a dispute among the pirates over how the cash should be divided.

The pirates had originally demanded $25 million for the supertanker carrying two million barrels of oil. Its capture in November set off a frenzy in the international shipping industry and drew worldwide attention to the rampant piracy off the coast of East Africa.

Pirates have seized scores of ships in the waters near Somalia during the past year and collected millions of dollars in ransom, but the seizure of the Sirius Star was one of the most brazen of their attacks.

A number of nations, including China, Malaysia and the United States, as well as the European Union, have dispatched warships to the Gulf of Aden to protect the busy shipping lanes that pass through it.

On Thursday, the U.S. Navy announced the formation of a new international force to fight piracy in the region.

The deputy commander of the new force, Commodore Tim Lowe, welcomed the release of the Sirius Star, but said "we must not forget that nearly 300 other merchant mariners are still being held captive." He called for continued efforts to address the international piracy problem.