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UPDATE 1-Somali pirates free German, Malaysian vessels

* German container ship held for four months

* Pirates say $2.7 million ransom paid for Hansa Stavanger

* Malaysian tug held for more than seven months also freed

(Recasts with German release, pvs NAIROBI)

By Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled

MOGADISHU, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Somali pirates freed a German ship seized in April on Monday after receiving a ransom and a Malaysian-owned tug boat has also been released after being held for more than seven months.

The German-flagged container vessel Hansa Stavanger was captured about 400 miles (650 km) off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4 with 14 Filipinos, five Germans, three Russians and two Ukranians on board.

“We are now in Haradheere town. We left the ship after we took the money,” pirate Hassan told Reuters by telephone from the Somali piracy haven. “I believe it has sailed away.”

The pirates said earlier on Monday they had received a $2.7 million ransom for the release of the 20,000 tonne ship, owned by Hamburg shipping company Leonardt & Blumberg.

“It is with great relief that I have learned the crew of the Hansa Stavanger has been freed,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. “My thanks goes to those who worked tirelessly to bring about a solution.”

The European Union Naval Force patrolling the perilous shipping lanes off Somalia said its ships were escorting the Hansa Stavanger to sea.

MILLIONS OF DOLLARS

Gangs of Somali pirates in the shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe have made millions of dollars in ransom payments from ships hijacked in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

Foreign navies patrolling the waters off Somalia have been unable to stem attacks on merchant ships and are overstretched given the vast expanses of seas they have to cover.

Poor weather has hampered pirate attacks of late giving the nearly 20,000 ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year a temporary reprieve. But the monsoon season lull broke last week with a flurry of attacks.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarer’s Association said pirates had released Malaysian-owned tugboat Masindra 7 and its 11 Indonesian crew on Sunday evening after a ransom was paid. The amount could not be immediately established.

The tugboat was towing a barge to Malaysia from Yemen when it was seized off the Yemeni coast on Dec. 16 last year.

“The crew is said to be safe and sound,” said Mwangura.

European Union Naval Force Atalanta spokesman Commander John Harbour told Reuters the tug was on its way to the Maldives.

The freed tug is being escorted by German warship Brandenberg, on patrol for the EU as part of Operation Atalanta.

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