Hijackers of ship off Somalia issue grim ultimatum

The pirates who hijacked an arms-laden Ukrainian tanker off Somalia issued an ultimatum on Friday and threatened to destroy the ship if no ransom is paid, a spokesperson for the bandits said.

The MV Faina is surrounded by United States warships, and a Russian frigate is heading toward the scene, raising the stakes for a possible commando-style raid on the ship. The vessel is carrying 33 tanks and other heavy weapons.

“We held a consultative meeting for more than three hours today and decided to blow up the ship and its cargo—us included—if the ship owners did not meet our ransom demand,” Sugule Ali told The Associated Press when a reporter called the ship via satellite telephone.

“After three days, starting from tomorrow, the news of the ship will be closed,” he said. “Either we achieve our goal and get the ransom or perish along with the ship, its crew and cargo.”

The pirates had said on Thursday they were willing to negotiate their ransom demand of $20-million, after nearly two weeks of insisting they would never lower the price.

The US Navy, which has six warships surrounding the Faina off the central coast of Somalia, had no comment on the pirates’ threat on Friday, said Lieutenant Nate Christensen, a spokesperson for the 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and helps monitor Somalia’s coast.

Pirates have seized more than two dozen ships this year off the Horn of Africa, but the hijacking of the Faina has drawn the most international concern because of its dangerous cargo.

Momentum has been growing for coordinated international action against the pirate menace.

Nato ministers agreed on Thursday that they would have seven ships in the area within two weeks.
In addition to the six US warships near the Faina, helicopters buzz overhead daily.

Russia also announced it would cooperate with the West in the fight, and several European countries have said they would launch an anti-piracy patrol.

The United Nations Security Council this week called on countries to send naval ships and military aircraft, and US warships are being diverted from counterterrorism duties to respond to the sea bandits.

Somalia’s government has given foreign powers the freedom to use force against the pirates.

Ali said several fighter jets and a drone were hovering over the ship.

“It appears that they are readying for an operation,” he said. “Helicopters, fighter jets and an unmanned drone are constantly flying over us all day long ... It is around-the-clock surveillance.”

Ukrainian Defence Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said earlier that Ukraine does not want foreign countries to use power to take the ship. Most of the 20 remaining crew members aboard the Faina are Ukrainian.

“We are against a forceful scenario, we believe there need to be negotiations,” he said. “What is most important is people.”—Sapa-AP

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