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'Very thin as expected': Somali pirates free Iranian fishermen held since 2015

Three men were the remaining crew of Iranian fishing vessel the FV Siraj and were the last hostages to be held by Somali pirates
The fourth member of the crew was freed last year as he needed urgent medical care (File/AFP)

Three Iranian fishermen, the last hostages held by Somali pirates, have been freed after five years of captivity, a member of the team who negotiated their release has said.

John Steed, a former British army officer who has spent years negotiating the release of piracy hostages in Somalia, told AFP that the three men were released on Saturday, but were awaiting Covid-19 tests to travel to Ethiopia and then home.

The three hostages were the remaining crew members of Iranian fishing vessel the FV Siraj, which was captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia in March 2015.

The fourth member of the crew was freed last year as he needed urgent medical care.

'This truly does mark the end of an era'

- George Lamplugh, Hostage Support Programme

The remaining three are "very thin as expected" and have gastric problems, but are otherwise fine, said Steed, the coordinator of the Hostage Support Programme (HSP) in Nairobi.

"This truly does mark the end of an era. Between 2010 and 2019, Somali pirates held over 2,300 crew either captive on their ships or as hostages," said fellow HSP member George Lamplugh in a statement seen by AFP on Thursday.

"Many were tortured, some died, but all were traumatised by their experiences. 

"We are only glad that we have been able to rescue all those who were left behind and fell outside the normal reaches of companies and countries."

Pirate attacks on maritime vessels off Somali peaked at 237 in 2011 before falling off sharply in recent years, after shipping firms strengthened their security and started sailing further away from the Somali coast. 

Patrols by warships operating as part of an international coalition also helped to drive down the number of attacks.