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But frustrations have been rising among local fishermen, including former pirates, at what they say are foreign fishermen illegally fishing in local waters.

Families of the crew members had tearfully pleaded for the men to be released unharmed.

Somali pirates usually hijack ships and crew for ransom.

The US Navy's 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and oversees anti-piracy efforts in the region, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This would be the first commercial pirate attack off Somalia since 2012, Steed said.

He says the release occurred after negotiations by local elders and local officials with the pirates, who seized the tanker on Monday.

Naval forces and the pirates clashed earlier on Thursday.

The hijacking of the Comoros-flagged tanker Aris 13 was the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel off Somalia since 2012.

Abdirizak Mohamed Ahmed, the director of Puntand's anti-piracy agency, confirmed the release of the ship Thursday night and said naval forces had boarded it to escort it to port.

The European Union anti-piracy operation in the region had said the pirates had been holding the crew captive and demanding a ransom.

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