Pirates refuse food and water for hostages

The crew of the Ukrainian freighter held by pirates off the Somali coast may be running out of vital supplies. Authorities in Kiev are looking at ways of getting food and water to those on board. The ship, carrying tanks and other weapons from Ukraine to

Earlier, the pirates threatened to blow up the vessel and kill all the crew. Later they reportedly agreed to extend the already expired ransom deadline.

The freighter Faina, carrying 33 T-72 tanks and other weaponry from Ukraine to Kenya, was seized on September 25 in the Indian ocean. On board are 20 sailors – 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and one Latvian.

Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Nina Karpacheva said a tonne of fuel had been delivered to the ship, which will be enough for a few days.  However, the pirates have refused to accept other aid.

“And as we know, they have food and water left for only five more days. But I can assure you that the entire crew is in a satisfactory condition, there are no injured,” she said.

The relatives of the detained sailors have faced an anxious wait since the Faina was seized three weeks ago. The bandits threat that they would blow up the ship if the reported $US 8 million ransom wasn’t paid has been especially traumatic.

Complaining that the authorities were not helping their cause, the families decided to take the matter into their own hands. On Monday they picketed the Ukrainian President’s administration demanding to see Viktor Yushchenko in person. He didn’t meet them, but urged everyone involved in the talks to intensify negotiations.

The relatives’ representative, Boris Vershtok, says “very experienced people are now taking part in the negotiations process. And for the first time we have hope that we’ll see our loved ones alive.”

Given the nature of the ship’s cargo, relatives were worried that force might be used against the pirates. Many feared that in the event of an assault, the crew would have no chance of surviving.

However, the authorities said violence was not an option.

The Vice Secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, Stepan Gavrish, said they had established a direct channel with the bandits to talk about the ransom. He said the pirates’ demands have so far been completely unrealistic.

“But we completely rule out the use of force. We have asked the U.S. ships which surround the vessel not to take any action,” Gavrish said.

The assurances have helped to calm the families, but relatives of the crew are coming up with their own methods of support. They are asking for donations to help meet the ransom, insisting that every little bit helps.

They want to get Ukrainian cell phone companies to set up a text message service for people to show their support for the crew.

The last vessel captured by pirates with Ukrainians on board was the Lehmann Timber.  That was four months ago. It took the authorities 42 days to get the hostages released.

Nina Karpacheva, the Human Rights Ombudsman who helped to free them, said that in some cases negotiations can last for up to six months.

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