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Wed 14 Jan 2009 05:28 PM

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Company silent over crew's salaries after pirate attack

Dubai-based Vela International refuses to say if it will up its crew's wages.

The shipping company at the centre of the latest pirate hijacking in the Gulf of Aden has refused to comment on whether it will start paying its crews extra danger money.

Vela International's Sirius Star super-tanker was seized by pirates off the east African coast on Nov.15. The 330-metre ship, which was carrying 25 crew, was eventually released on Jan. 9, after a ransom of $3 million was reportedly paid.

The growing incidence of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Arden and Indian Ocean, which totalled 130 last year, prompted Saudi Arabia’s National Shipping Company to double salaries for employees travelling in dangerous waters, it said on Monday.

But Dubai-based Vela International, a subsidiary of Saudi Armaco, was unwilling to discuss staff wages when contacted by Arabian Business on Wednesday.

"The [pirate] incident is extremely fresh right now, so it’s too early for us to say anything,” a Vela spokesperson said. “Right now, we’re just concentrating on getting our crew home.”

When asked if wages will increase, the Vela spokesperson said: “I can’t speculate on that.”

Following Sirius Star’s release, Vela’s chief executive Saleh K’aki issued a statement saying, “We are very relieved to know that all the crew members are safe and I am glad to say that they are all in good health and high spirits.

“This has been a very trying time for them and certainly for their families. We are very happy to report to their families that they will be on their way home soon.”

K’aki declined to comment on whether a ransom had been paid to secure the ship’s release.

The ship, worth an estimated $150 million, was carrying $100 million of cargo when the hijacking took place.

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