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Talks to free arms ship collapse

NAIROBI, October 11 – Talks aimed at freeing a Ukrainian arms ship being held by Somali pirates collapsed on Friday, a spokesman for the pirates told AFP, deepening the two-week stand-off.

"The negotiations with the owner of the ship have totally collapsed. The owners are changing their minds from time to time, maybe because they are being advised by somebody that they can resolve the matter militarily," Sugule Ali told AFP from the ship.

"Given the situation, we are on alert and preparing ourselves for any eventuality, including military against us," he added.

"Therefore, we have given the ship’s owner three days to respond positively to the negotiations, otherwise we will take some action that we will not reveal now," Ali added.

The pirates have been demanding 20 million dollars to release the MV Faina and its 21 crew, seized on September 25 as was sailing to the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, although sources close to the hijackers say the amount may have been reduced after several days of talks.

The exact details of the negotiations remain sketchy, but the pirates have insisted they must be paid before letting go the ship.

Kenya has shrugged off lingering speculation on the identity of the recipient of the cargo of 33 tanks, surface-to-air systems and other weapons pirates seized on a Ukrainian ship.

Many industry experts and intelligence sources have suggested the arms were bound for South Sudan, and not Kenya as Nairobi and Kiev have repeatedly insisted.

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Nairobi however has refused to enter the negotiations, which are believed to involve the pirates and the ship’s owners, and advocated muscle over diplomacy in a bid not to encourage long-term piracy.

Late Tuesday, the UN’s Security Council unanimously approved a resolution urging states to deploy more air and naval forces to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

On Thursday, NATO defence ministers agreed to send seven war ships this month to help combat piracy off Somalia, but their threat is yet to soften the pirates.

The alliance spokesman, James Appathurai, said the vessels, including a number of frigates, would help escort UN World Food Programme (WFP) food shipments and patrol the largely-lawless waters off Somalia.

The WFP ships 30,000-35,000 tonnes of aid into Somalia each month. Its vessels are currently under Canadian escort, but that service is due to come to an end on October 20.

The UN says up to 3.2 million Somalis are facing acute shortages spurred by drought, conflict and record-high inflation in Somalia.

Currently US warships and navies from other nations are shadowing MV Faina, anchored off at the Somali fishing village of Hobyo, to prevent the pirates from offloading the cargo.

At least 63 ships have been attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia since the start of the year and almost half of them were successfully held for ransom.

The Gulf of Aden is one of the world’s busiest maritime routes and under increasing surveillance from foreign warships, leading pirates to venture further out to catch their prey.

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The pirates operate high-powered speedboats and are heavily armed, sometimes holding ships seized off Somalia’s largely lawless coast for weeks.

Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre set off a deadly power struggle that has scuppered numerous UN-backed bids to restore normalcy.

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