Pirates say deal is near

October 7, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, October 7 – Pirates holding a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware with a 21-member crew off the coast of Somalia said Tuesday a deal could be reached in a day for the vessel’s release.

The pirates, estimated at 50, hijacked MV Faina on September 25, as it ferried 33 tanks and other military cargo from Ukraine to Mombasa.

"A deal might be sealed by Wednesday and then we will issue a statement regarding the end of the matter," said Sugule Ali their spokesman.

"I am not talking about the fine the owners of the ship will pay but both sides are definitely ready to talk amicably," he told AFP.

The pirates, who refer to ransom demands as "fines" imposed on Western powers for their "illegal" use of Somali waters, had previously said they wanted Sh3.5 billion.

The latest development came as Somali government officials urged the international community to move with speed and recover the seized Ukranian ship.

Somalia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Ahmed Jama told a news conference in Nairobi that the matter was ‘serious’ and needed ‘urgent intervention’.

The Somali Minister declared that his country had no capacity to deal with the pirates who have fleeced the maritime industry of millions of dollars.

“We have no control whatsoever on these pirates. We have no contacts with them at all, they are criminals and should be dealt with firmly,” he said at a news conference at the Somali Embassy in Nairobi. “We have no relationship with the pirates at all, they are criminals.”

Mr Jama urged the US and other forces trailing the freighter to take urgent action that will not endanger of souls on board.

While admitting ransom is the only likely solution for now, the Foreign Minister said the move was likely to promote a culture of impunity amongst pirates and warned against any future negotiations with the international criminals.

“The situation at hand is complex, but there is little that can be done in terms of using force because there are innocent souls on board. In future, ransom should not be encouraged at all,” he said.

Mr Jama said his country has been in talks with the United Nations (UN) Security Council which has pledged to find a lasting solution to secure the Somali coastline.

He said resolution 1816 of the United Nations Security Council passed on June 2 empowers nations with capacity to intervene whenever a ship is hijacked.

The world’s super powers led by the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom and Russia have been trailing and keeping watch over the ship with little or no success reported.

A heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyer USS Howard DDG 83 has been patrolling at close vicinity of the pirated ship that is being moored off the Somali coast near Hobyo, 500 kilometres north of the capital, Mogadishu.

Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, which has been moving towards the region was yet to make visual contact with the pirated ship by Tuesday.

The surge in incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia threatens to cripple the shipping industry as it affects some of the world’s most important trade routes through the Suez Canal.

Some vessels could in future choose to bypass the Canal entirely and take the longer route between Europe and Asia by going around the Cape of Good Hope.

A recent report by the London-based think tank Chatham House warned that world trade faces major disruption if piracy was allowed to expand unchecked and be co-opted by radical Islamist groups.

"If the cost of extra insurance becomes prohibitive, or the danger simply too great, shipping companies may avoid the Gulf of Aden and take the long route to Europe and North America around the Cape of Good Hope," it said.

"The extra weeks of travel and fuel consumption would add considerably to the cost of transporting goods at a time when the price of oil is already putting the squeeze on world trade,” Chatham House said.

The Gulf of Aden commands access to the southern entrance of the Suez Canal and is one of the world’s most important trade routes. Some 16,000 ships and around 30 percent of the world’s oil transits through it each year.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, at least 62 attacks have been carried out on foreign ships in the waters off the coast of Somalia since the start of this year, almost half of them successful.



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