Somali pirate demands $20m ransom

September 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
As a heavily-armed U.S. freighter patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead, a Somali pirate told The Associated Press that his group was demanding a $20million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks. The spokesman also warned that pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship.

Pirates seized the Ukrainian-operated ship Faina off the coast of Somalia on Thursday as it headed to Kenya carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. The ordinance was ordered by the Kenyan government.

The USS Howard was stationed off the coast of Somalia on Sunday, making sure that the pirates did not remove the tanks, ammunition and other heavy weapons from the ship. A spokesman for the U.S. 5th fleet said the Navy remained "deeply concerned" over the fate of 21-member crew and the ship's cargo.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali spoke Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone - and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship's captain, who also spoke with the AP.

"We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew," Ali said, adding that "if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies."

Ali said planes have been flying over the Faina. It was not known which country the planes belonged to. He also said others who made earlier ransom demands did not speak for the pirates holding the ship.

The captain of the ship, who identified himself as Viktor Nikolsky, told The Associated Press that a Russian crew member died Sunday because of hypertension. He said he was speaking from the deck of the Faina.

Nikolsky said the other crew members are fine and reported he can see three ships about a mile away, including one carrying an American flag.


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