By Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates have released three Syrian hostages held in captivity since 2010 without payment of any ransom, government officials said on Saturday.
The three were part of the 19-strong crew of a Panama-flagged, United Arab Emirates-owned bulk cargo vessel captured in December 2010 some 400 miles northeast of the Seychelles. The ship was released in October 2012 after pirates said they received $400,000, but detained six of the crew to get more money for them.
The pirates who had held the three were pardoned, Mohamed Aden Tiicey, president of the government of Adado region, told Reuters by phone.
"No ransom was paid. We had agreed with pirates to surrender, hand over weapons and release the hostages without ransom," Tiicey said.
Hostage Muayad Walio told Reuters he and his companions in captivity were in good health.
"I am very happy. We got our freedom after about two years and one month," hostage Muayad Walio told Reuters.
Tiicey and a former pirate, Abdiqadir, accompanied the three released hostages to Mogadishu.
"We have taken these three Syrian hostages from the pirates- the other crew had been previously released," Abdiqadir told Reuters.
Abdiqadir is the son of a former pirate kingpin known as Mohamed Abdi Hassan "Afweyne". He and his father now both work with the Addado region.
A U.N. Monitoring Group report on Somalia in 2010 said that "Afweyne" commanded bandits in the Arabian Sea and off the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa for almost a decade, raking in millions of dollars in ransom payments.
Somalia, which is only now getting a functioning government after two decades of chaos and civil war, is next to the Gulf of Aden's busy shipping lanes. Poverty and lawlessness have lured many young men into piracy.
But successful hijackings have fallen steadily since 2010 due to patrolling by an international coalition of warships and the use of armed private security guards on merchant ships.
(Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Jason Webb)