Somali pirates seize Ukrainian ship carrying tanks (Lead)

September 26th, 2008 - 8:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi/Kiev, Sep 26 (DPA) Pirates have seized a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying military tanks off the coast of Somalia, a maritime official said Friday.”The ship was grabbed yesterday evening as it sailed to (the Kenyan port of) Mombasa,” Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme told DPA.

“It was carrying military equipment, including tanks,” he added.

The Russian Interfax news agency late Thursday reported that the Belize-flagged vessel was carrying a shipment of 30 T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and munitions.

The shipment reportedly was en-route to South Sudan.

A total 21 crew members - 17 Ukrainians, 3 Russians and one Latvian - were onboard when the ship was chased down and boarded by armed men in three launches.

The ship’s captain, a Ukrainian, was able to telephone a merchant marine call centre and describe the pirates boarding his vessel, before communications were cut off, Ukraine’s News24 television reported.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the count of captured sailors, but declined to give information of the actual destination or cargo contents of the freighter.

The bulk carrier, named Faina, also had aboard an undetermined number of armoured personnel carriers, and munitions, Ukraine’s Interfax news agency reported.

Somali authorities were unable to give any information on the current whereabouts of the ship.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko Friday called an emergency meeting of the country’s National Security Council to discuss means of locating and freeing the sailors.

Ukraine, which lacks diplomatic representation in the region would be working through British government intermediaries, an official at Ukraine’s foreign ministry said.

Piracy is rife off the Somali coast, with armed groups now holding over a dozen of ships and around 200 crew members captive.

The pirates often demand ransoms in excess of $1 million for the return of the vessels and their crews.

Observers have expressed concern that some of the pirates have links to the ongoing bloody insurgency in the Horn of Africa nation and are helping fund it through piracy.

Somalia’s transitional federal government, which has no significant navy and is embroiled in combating the insurgency, has been unable to control the pirates

The UN Security Council in June approved incursions into Somali waters to combat the pirates and the US Naval Central Command recently set up a security patrol in the area.

However, the measures appear to have had little effect so far.

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