Somalia has freed six foreigners sentenced to at least 10 years in prison each for bringing millions of dollars intended for pirate ransom into the country, a government spokesman said Sunday.
Abdirahman Omar Osman said the three British nationals, an American and two Kenyans, were freed after the court processed their release. The country's president granted them a pardon from their sentences, he said.
The men were arrested in Mogadishu last month after two planes were found to be carrying millions of dollars in cash. Two of the defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine, the others were sentenced to 10 years and a $10,000 fine on June 18. Osman said a $100,000 fine had been paid for the two planes to be released.
"They left the prison and now they are at the airport to fly with their two planes to Kenya," he said.
Pirates have been receiving millions of dollars in ransoms for several years now but this was the first time Westerners were sentenced for their role in paying out the ransoms.
The average ransom paid to pirates has reached nearly $5 million. The ransoms are often air-dropped down to hijacked ships. Somalia has been mired in conflict since longtime dictator Siad Barre was overthrown by warlords in 1991 who then turned on each other.
The conflict inland has helped piracy flourish on the waters off the horn Africa country.
There were a record high 142 piracy attacks worldwide in the first quarter of this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a global maritime watchdog. Nearly 70 percent or 97 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 attacks in the same period a year earlier.