Andrew Mwangura, the head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, speaking to reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi (file photo)
Andrew Mwangura, the head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, speaking to reporters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi (file photo)

On the heels of the highest ransom ever paid to Somali pirates, civilians recently kidnapped in the Indian Ocean reportedly have been  taken to Somalia where they are being held onshore.

The European Union Naval Force Somalia announced Monday it had rescued off the Somali coast the captain of a yacht that had been hijacked by pirates. The EU's anti-piracy force said the skipper was rescued after fleeing captivity upon landing at the Somali coast.

The EUNAVFOR release contradicts earlier reports that the man had been killed by his captors while attempting to flee. Though it is unclear whether or not the man had been injured in the exchange, the Coordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, Andrew Mwangura, said the captain likely was alive and en route to Mombasa, on the Kenyan coast.

At least two other crewmembers were kidnapped by the pirates, but according to EU Naval Forces, their location was unknown. Reports now indicate the hostages have been taken to the town of Barawe, in southern Somalia. According to Mwangura, being held in Barawe could complicate their release.

"If it is true that is a very dangerous place," said Mwangura. "Barawe is under control of Islamic groups. If it's not in good cooperation with the pirates, maybe the group will demand to take over the hostages and the pirates will not let go; so there will be fighting between them. The Islamic group will take them for political gains while the pirates are taking them for commercial gains."

Barawe is controlled by al-Qaida linked group al Shabab, which is currently battling the government in Mogadishu to establish an Islamic state in Somalia.  

The recent kidnapping comes as ransoms for pirated ships reach record levels in East Africa. The South Korean Supertanker Samho Dream, along with 24 crewmembers, was released Saturday after being held in Somalia for nearly seven months. The boat was released after the hijackers received a record payment of $9.5 million.

Analyst worry the rise of ransom prices is spurring more piracy in the Indian Ocean, and could complicate negotiations. According to Mwangura, ships are now being held longer to extract the maximum payment from their owners.

"As it is, the ship is held captive for a period of not more than six weeks but now, they go for more than four months," said Mwangura. "And the rate is not less than $3 million for a big ship. And now, yesterday, they took $9.5 million, meaning that now the bargaining power is high, and they are demanding more money."

Mwangura said contact with the yacht hijackers likely would be established through relatives of their hostages' families. The hostages, who were hijacked off the coast of Seychelles, are reported to be South African.