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27 Oct, 2008 20:16

Somali pirates threaten to kill hostages on Tuesday

Negotiators in Kenya are continuing talks with Somali pirates who are holding 20 hostages on board a seized Ukrainian freighter, the Faina. Earlier they issued an ultimatum saying they would kill hostages if a multi-million dollar ransom is not paid.

It's also reported that the seized crew, 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and one Latvian, are experiencing a severe shortage of food. But according to Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Nina Karpacheva, the pirates have agreed to accept food and water supplies onboard.

Nina Karpacheva knows what it is like when pirates seize a ship in African seas. She played an active role in setting free four Ukrainian sailors on the Lehmann Timber ship in July.

Now she's travelled to Kenya for talks with all those involved in negotiations with the bandits.

“The situation is tense, but I can assure you it is improving. However, we need to prevent anything like this from happening again. The Faina was seized by youngsters aged between 14 and 27. Kids who have never been to school, but only know how to hold a machine gun. That’s one big problem we need to deal with,” she says.

The Faina and its 20 crew have been held by pirates off the coast of Kenya for more than a month now. The captors have changed their demands several times and now all details of the negotiations are secret.

“We hope that even maybe this week the talks will be completed. There will be a reasonable ransom, maybe a little bit more than in all other cases, but it won’t be much. And it certainly won’t be $US 8 million or $US 20 million, because to pay such a sum would mean endangering all other ships currently held by pirates,” said military expert Mikhail Voitenko.

Several U.S. warships, now also joined by the Russian warship 'Neustrashimy' (Fearless), have reportedly surrounded the Faina, keeping it in view.

Previously the pirates had threatened to blow up the ship, which was transporting 33 T-72 tanks, rocket launchers, machine guns and other arms to Kenya.

According to the pirates’ spokesman, the negotiating team is demanding the release of the ship and the crew, not the cargo. The Ukrainian Human Rights Ombudsman says that in some cases negotiations can take as long as six months.

According to some reports, the company which owns the ship and is taking part in the negotiations, has accused the ombudsman of interfering in the talks – something Karpacheva denied.

“I haven’t had any direct talks with the pirates. It’s the duty of the ship owner but so far he has only thought of getting out of the situation without having to spend a penny. I urge him to think about what he should have thought of since the first day, about saving the lives of the crew,” said Karpacheva.