Seven Pakistani hostages are understood to have been released from Malaysia-flagged boxship Albedo for a ransom of $1.2m after 20 months in captivity.
A source close to the situation has confirmed that the seven crew were on their way to Karachi.
Local news source Somali Report claimed they were released late on Tuesday, but it has been difficult to secure confirmation of this.
The source said this was because of questions about the rest of the crew, who remain on board the 1993-built, 1,066 teu Albedo.
Initially, 22 crew were taken captive: seven Pakistanis, seven Bangladeshis, six Sri Lankans, an Indian and an Iranian. The Indian national died of cholera while being held.
It is understood that the freed seven crew had been separated from the vessel and taken ashore. Their release is a signal that the situation may improve for the 14 crew who remain captive, according to the source.
Reports from Pakistan say Sindh state governor Ishratul Ebad Khan, who has been integral in the hostage negotiations, confirmed the release of the seven crew at a press conference late on Wednesday night.
In March, Lloyd’s List reported on a deal struck that would have offered the pirate group $2.9m in so-called expenses to freeAlbedo and all 21 surviving crew.
Albedo was hijacked in the Indian Ocean en route to Kenya in November 2010. The pirates initially demanded $10m. The owner, Malaysian Majestic Enrich Shipping Sendirian, could not pay the ransom and the families of the crew have not been able to raise sufficient funds.
The $2.9m deal was negotiated by Ahmed Chinoy, chief of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee in Sindh, Pakistan, together with Mr Khan and other senior leaders.
Pakistan opposes the payment of ransoms and Mr Chinoy said the figure of $2.9m was calculated to cover the pirates’ expenses of feeding, healthcare, loading and offloading the hostages, which roughly works out as $50 per person per day.
It was agreed that the money would be dropped by air before April 20, but the funds were not raised in time.