Another ship seized off Somali coast as pirates issue threat
Nations struggle to end standoff
MOGADISHU, Somalia - Armed pirates have hijacked a massive Greek tanker off the Somali coast, officials said yesterday, as Western nations prepared to send more warships to the area to help end a standoff aboard a cargo ship laden with tanks and weapons.
The latest ship to be seized is a Greek chemical tanker flying a Panamanian flag, which was traveling from Southeast Asia to Europe, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur. There were no further details on the ship, which was seized Friday.
Pirates who have been holding the MV Faina, a Ukrainian freighter, for two weeks have threatened to destroy that vessel unless a ransom is paid.
Six US naval vessels are surrounding the Faina and a Russian frigate was heading toward the scene, raising the prospects of a commando-style raid on the captive ship.
NATO ministers agreed last week to send seven ships to the area, and several European countries have said they will launch an antipiracy patrol. Russia said it would cooperate with the West in the fight. The UN Security Council last week called on countries to send naval ships and military aircraft, and US warships are being diverted from counterterrorism duties.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov has said that Ukraine does not want foreign countries to use force to take the ship. Most crew members aboard the Faina are Ukrainian.
Calls to the Odessa offices of the ship's operator, Tomex Corp., were not answered yesterday.
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: 33 tanks and other heavy weapons.
The threat by the pirates on the Faina was unusual. Pirates operating off Somalia rarely harm their hostages, instead holding out for a ransom that often exceeds $1 million. But international pressure was mounting regarding the Faina hijacking.
"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 said in an interview by satellite telephone on board the ship late Friday.
The pirate spokesman gave the ship owners until tomorrow night to pay. Ali had said Thursday he was willing to negotiate the ransom demand of $20 million, after nearly two weeks of insisting they would never lower the price.
"Either we achieve our goal and get the ransom or perish along with the ship, its crew, and cargo," Ali said.
There are 20 Ukrainian, Latvian, and Russian crew members on board. The ship's Russian captain died of a heart condition soon after the hijacking nearly two weeks ago, officials in Moscow say.
The US Navy has used ships and helicopters to surround the Faina off the central coast of Somalia. It had no comment on the pirates' threat to blow up the ship, said Lieutenant Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and helps monitor Somalia's coast.
Most pirate attacks occur north of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. But attacks are increasing in the Indian Ocean off eastern Somalia.
A nation of about 8 million people, Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. A quarter of Somali children die before age 5 and nearly every public institution has collapsed. In the capital, Mogadishu, thousands of civilians have died over the past 18 months in a ferocious insurgency.
Two African Union military planes arrived in Mogadishu yesterday with 400 Burundian reinforcements for its peacekeeping force.