Pirates not in control of the situation?

Pirates holding a Ukrainian cargo ship off the coast of Somalia have extended their ransom payment deadline. Earlier, they were demanding that eight million dollars be paid by Monday night. The hijackers are still threatening to blow up the vessel if the

Maritime expert Mikhail Voitenko, however, believes the pirates' threats are nothing but the type of strategy pirates are famous for. The judgment appeared on the Maritime Bulletin Sovfracht website.

Faina has 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and a Latvian on board and is carrying 33 tanks and heavy ammunition sold to Kenya by Ukraine.

Experts say if the pirates try to sink the ship the Navy could storm the vessel.

Their initial ransom demand was $US 35 million, but has reportedly been dropped to $US 8 million during the talks.

The ship’s captain, who was Russian, died of a heart attack shortly after the ship was seized.

Warships in close proximity

A group of U.S. battleships have surrounded the captured vessel and a Russian warship  is also heading to the Somali coast.

Neustrashimy (Fearless), a missile frigate from Russia's Baltic Fleet, will aim to ensure the safety of Russian vessels passing through the area.

Last week Russia's military was authorised to fight pirates both off Somalia's coast and on land by its President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

In recent months the pirates have seized control of over 27 vessels in the area, 11 of which remain under their control. Faina, however, has drawn the most concern due to the military hardware in its cargo.

According to Somali officials, forces have raided one of the many hijacked cargo ships off the country's coast, killing two pirates.

Pirates bemused

Maritime expert Mikhail Voitenko believes the pirates are bemused by the course of the talks.

“They are nervous and make one statement after another, having no clue which of the parties in the talks has the real authority,” he said. “The situation is a stalemate, with nothing clear and amid growing fears of an attempt to resolve it by force.

Meeting requested

Meanwhile, in Kiev, relatives of the Ukrainian crew members are demanding a meeting with the country’s President Viktor Yushchenko.

Some 20 relatives are at Yushchenko’s secretariat determined not to leave till their wish is granted. They believe no ransom money has been laid aside, despite promises made by the government to the contrary.

Tatyana Filippenko, the wife of one of the crew members, said: “All the information is classified, and to me it seems that no-one at all is trying to solve the problem.  The government has its own interests in this story, as does the Ministry of Defence and, I’m not afraid to say this, the President himself. I think that if countries such as Iran, France and others did pay ransoms for their citizens, why can't Ukraine?”

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