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8 Dec, 2008 13:15

Somali pirates threaten to cancel ransom deal

Negotiations with Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian cargo vessel have been temporarily halted. The move comes after the bandits threatened to pull out of an agreement to release the ship. The hijackers accuse the ship’s owners of stalling the ransom paym

According to reports, the pirates could get $US 3.5 million for the release of the Faina – one-tenth of the $US 35 million ransom they originally demanded.

Citing a pirate who called himself Ahmed, Ukraine’s ICTV television said an agreement on the payment of a ransom was reached last week – but the ship's owners have yet to hand over the money.

The vessel – carrying T-72 tanks, grenade launchers, air defence systems and ammunition – was seized by pirates off the Somali coast on September 25.

On board there are 17 Ukrainian crewmembers, two Russians and a Latvian. The Russian captain of the Faina, Vladimir Kolobkov, died of a heart attack after the vessel was seized, and his body is still on board.

This year, Somali pirates have seized about 39 ships and launched attacks on 90.

On December 2, the United Nations Security Council extended for another year its authorisation for countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters with advance notice. Such countries can use “all necessary means” to stop acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The UN called on all countries and regional organisations with defence capabilities to deploy naval ships and military aircraft off the Somali coast. The rampant piracy is impeding UN efforts to feed millions of hungry civilians in the strife-torn country.

Meanwhile, the EU is getting ready to launch its first naval operation off the East African coast to tackle piracy around the Horn of Africa.