Three warships hem in hijacked Ukrainian ship

September 30th, 2008 - 12:42 am ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, Sep 29 (DPA) Three warships are hemming in Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying tanks and other military supplies, a US Navy official said Monday.”There are now three ships in the vicinity,” Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, Deputy Spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, told DPA.

The MV Faina, along with its cargo of 33 T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and munitions, was seized late Thursday off Somalia as it headed for the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The USS Howard was the first warship to make visual contact with the seized vessel, which is anchored off the Somali coast near the port of Hobyo.

Two other ships Monday joined the Howard. Christensen refused to give details about the other warships, but one is believed to be Russian.

The identity of the third is unknown.

Christensen said that there were currently no plans to launch any kind of assault on the hijacked vessel.

“We are maintaining visual contact for the moment,” he said.

A pirate spokesman earlier warned that neither the US, nor France - which has troops in nearby Djibouti and has intervened in the past when its own citizens have been seized by Somali pirates - should attempt military action.

“We warn the French and the Americans … anything that happens is their responsibility,” Mogadishu-based Radio Garowe quoted the spokesman, Januna Ali Jama, as saying.

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

One of the Russian crewmembers has since died of an illness.

Piracy is rife in the Gulf of Aden - a strategic shipping route off Somalia - with over a dozen ships currently in the hands of armed groups, the latest victim being a Greek vessel seized Saturday.

Two other pirated vessels, MV Capt Stefanos and MV Centauri, are also anchored in the same location as the Ukrainian ship, the US Navy said.

However, pirates have over the past few days released two ships - Japanese vessel the MV Stella Maris and Malaysian tanker the MT Bunga Melati 5 - although ransoms of several million dollars are believed to have been paid.

The ransom being asked for the Belize-flagged Ukrainian ship far exceeds these demands due to its worrying cargo.

The pirates were originally reported to have asked for $35 million, but this figure has now come down, although varying reports put the asking price at between $5-20 million.

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