Somalia pirates holding 48 Asian fishermen hostage agreed to reduce demand

Pirates holding 48 Asian fishermen hostage off Somalia have slashed their ransom demand, a human rights worker said Tuesday.

The gunmen, who have been holding the fishermen and their vessels near the southern Somali port of Kismayo since Aug. 15, originally demanded US$500,000 (Ђ399,000) for each of the three boats and their crews. They agreed to accept US$50,000 (Ђ39,900) during negotiations with the Malaysian agent for the Taiwan trawlers, said Ali Bashi, chairman of the Fanole Human Rights Center, a Lower Juba rights group.

The hostages include three Taiwanese captains as well as 45 crew members from Indonesia, China, the Philippines and Vietnam, the AP reminds.

Piracy is common along the coast of this chaotic country. Several ships a month are attacked or hijacked, with valuables stolen and crews held for ransom. A ship carrying international food aid has been held by gunmen since late June.

Taiwan had asked for international help in contacting the gunmen, and talked to the hostage-takers last week in an effort to negotiate a lower ransom.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Warlords then turned on each other, plunging the country of 7 million into chaos.

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