Somalia – Somali pirates fired in the air in jubilation after receiving a $1.8 million (1.1 million pounds) ransom in exchange for the release of a German-owned vessel and its 11-member crew, pirate sources and officials said on Saturday.

Somali sea gangs, operating in the strategic shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe, have made millions of dollars in ransom from hijacking vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

We have taken a $1.8 million ransom and released the German ship, pirate Ahmed told Reuters from a lair in the town of Eyl on the Somali coast. The 146-meter MV Victoria, an Antigua and Barbuda-flagged cargo vessel, was hijacked by eight pirates in the Gulf of Aden on May 5 while on its way to the port of Jeddah.

A German foreign ministry official confirmed the Victoria's release. The East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme said the eleven Romanian crew were well, and the vessel was being monitored by aircraft as it made its way north from Somalia.

A pirate negotiator said a tugboat brought the ransom to the brigands. Residents said pirates fired wildly into the air to celebrate the hand-over of the money.

More than 40 pirates are here around me waiting for their share, said the negotiator, who declined to be named.

A flotilla of foreign navies patrolling the waters off Somalia have been unable to stem a wave of attacks on commercial shipping and find themselves 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 some temporary reprieve. But the monsoon season lull broke last week with a flurry of attacks.