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Somali Pirates Release 2 Ships

Pirates in Somalia have released two foreign-owned ships with a total of 35 crew members.

Officials from a Turkish company say pirates released the chemical tanker Karagol and its 14-member crew late Monday.

The ship was transporting more than 4,000 tons of chemicals when pirates seized it off the coast of Yemen on November 12.

Earlier, Philippine officials said the pirates released a Japanese-operated bulk carrier with 21 Philippine crewmen on board. The pirates had held the African Sanderling since October.

The crews of both released ships are said to be fine. It is not clear in either case whether the ships' owners paid ransom.

Somali pirates have hauled in millions of dollars in ransom payments from hijackings over the last year.

Several ships have been released this month, including a Saudi-owned oil tanker last Friday. The ship was held for nearly two months before being released for a reported ransom of $3 million.

That ship's 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.

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.

The U.S. Navy announced last week the formation of a new international force to fight piracy in the region.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.