Somali pirates, besieged by foreign warships, demand $20 mln
Monday, 29 September 2008

AFP, MOGADISHU - Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter carrying military weapons defiantly demanded 20 million dollars in ransom despite being surrounded by three foreign warships on Sunday.

The spokesman for the pirates, contacted by AFP via satellite telephone, confirmed that they were surrounded by three foreign war vessels off Somalia's central coast and said the ship's crew was "safe and not harmed."
 
"What we are awaiting eagerly is the 20 million dollars (13.7 million euros), nothing less, nothing more," Sugule Ali said. On Saturday, figures ranging between five and 35 million dollars had been put forward.
 
Ali confirmed that the ship was under siege, but he said the pirates would not give themselves up.
 
"It is true we are surrounded by three foreign military vessels and there are some others we can see (in the) distance," he said.
 
"We are not afraid of their presence, that will not make us to abandon the ship or to refrain from asking the money," Ali said. "There is no shortage of food supply and all the crew members are healthy and well including ours."
 
Earlier, the adviser to the presidency of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, told AFP that three warships were tracking the pirates and two were very close to it.
 
"One of these ships is from the United States and the other two are from European Union countries," he said, without naming the European countries.
 
The governments of Britain, France, Germany and Greece told AFP their sailors were not involved in this operation.
 
The MV Faina was seized on Thursday with a crew of 21 as it neared the Kenyan port of Mombasa with a cargo of tanks, grenade launchers and ammunition for the Kenyan army.
 
A tribal chief and local fishermen Sunday in Harardhere, around 410 kilometres (250 miles) north of Mogadishu, confirmed to AFP they had seen the Ukrainian ship surrounded by at least two ships but were unable to say what nationality.
 
"The pirates are now surrounded near the village of Hinbarwaqo (between Harardhere and the port of Hobyo area) by Western ships. They asked individuals in charge of the hijacking of the Ukranian ship to come aboard the navy ship for talks," the local clan elder, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
 
He said the navy ships were using loudspeakers warning the pirates not to make any attempt to unload any of the cargo on board the ship. So far they had not responded to the invitation for talks.
 
A fisherman in Harardhere, Abdinasir Ahmed, told AFP he had seen two big ships in the vicinity of the hijacked ship, but had been unable to get any closer.
 
Another elder, Ali Harun, said: "The pirates made contacts with friends on the ground and they are saying that at least two warships came close to them, I believe they have no chances of escaping with the shipment."
 
According to the Ukrainian defence ministry, the Faina is carrying 33 Soviet-type T-72 tanks as well as armaments being delivered by Kiev as part of an arms deal with Kenya.
 
Seventeen Ukrainians are among the ship's 21-strong crew, which also includes three Russians and one Latvian.
 
On Friday the Russian navy dispatched the frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless) to the region in response to what it said was a "rise in pirate attacks, including against Russian citizens."
 
The coastal waters off Somalia, which has not had an effective central government for more than 17 years and is plagued by insecurity, are considered to be among the most dangerous waterways for shipping in the world.
 
At least 55 boats have been attacked in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since January by Somali pirates, according to the International Maritime Office (IMB).
 
Last year more than 25 ships were seized by pirates in Somali coastal waters despite US navy patrols, the IMB said.

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