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Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009

Somalis free Japanese skipper, Chinese crew


Staff writer

A Chinese fishing boat and its Japanese captain were released Sunday by Somali pirates after being held captive for nearly three months, the Foreign Ministry said.

Japanese Embassy officials in Beijing confirmed that Toyokazu Kugai, 53, was in good health and was being escorted by the Chinese navy to safe waters. Kugai was the only Japanese among the vessel's 24-member crew.

The embassy in Beijing was notified by the Chinese government at 6:25 p.m. local time Sunday that the fishing boat, owned by Tianjin-based Tianjin Ocean Fishing Co., had been set free by Somali pirates.

The Tian Yu 8 was seized Nov. 14 off the Kenyan coast by pirates armed with grenade launchers and automatic weapons. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not reveal details of the release, including whether any ransom was paid.

Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone released a statement praising the Chinese government for the liberation, adding that Japan plans to swiftly join global antipiracy efforts off Somalia's shores.

Skipper in good state

BEIJING (Kyodo) The Japanese skipper of a Chinese fishing vessel that was released after being hijacked off the coast of Kenya said Monday he is in a good physical state.

"We spent about three months on the vessel with an armed group, but I am fine now," Kugai said. "It's not convenient for me to say (what the experience was like)," he added.



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