Navy Keeps Eye on Ship — Sudan-Bound Tanks Aboard Seized Vessel
By Elizabeth A Kennedy
NAIROBI, Kenya – U.S. helicopters on Monday buzzed a hijacked Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Soviet-designed tanks and other weapons that officials fear could end up in the hands of al-Qaida- linked militants in Somalia if the pirates are allowed to escape.
Thursday’s seizure of the MV Faina off Somalia, a failed state seen as a key battleground in the war on terrorism, could bring dangerous effects across the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Piracy has become a lucrative criminal racket in impoverished Somalia, bringing in millions of dollars in ransom.
The pirates aboard the blue-and-white Ukrainian-operated freighter are demanding $20 million to release the ship, its 21 crew members, one of whom has died of an apparent heart attack, and its cargo of T-72 tanks, rifles and ammunition.
The ship, now anchored off Somalia’s coast near the central town of Hobyo, apparently was destined for Sudan when armed pirates overtook it, likely from a speedboat, and climbed up the side of the ship.
“We maintain a vigilant watch over the ship and we will remain on station while negotiations between the pirates and the shipping company are going on,” Lt. Nathan Christensen, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, told The Associated Press.
Although the pirates have not been allowed to take anything off the Faina, they have been allowed to resupply, one U.S. official said when asked if those aboard needed anything such as food.
Originally published by Elizabeth A. Kennedy Associated Press .
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