Image: Pirated ship seen from US Navy ship
U.S. Navy via AP
U.S. military personnel aboard a guided-missile cruiser monitor the pirate ship off Somalia on Tuesday. news services
updated 10/2/2008 12:47:32 PM ET 2008-10-02T16:47:32

Somali pirates holding a hijacked ship loaded with arms said Thursday they will not release it for less than $20 million and warned they will fight back against any commando-style rescue attempts.

A half-dozen U.S. navy warships have surrounded the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina, which was seized last Thursday off the central coast of Somalia as it transported 33 Soviet-designed tanks and heavy weapons to a Kenyan port.

"We would never reduce the ransom," pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told the Associated Press in a satellite telephone interview from the Faina.

The Somali government on Wednesday authorized foreign powers to use whatever force is necessary to free the ship from the pirates. Asked about fears that a foreign country might attack — as French commandos have done in the past to free hijacked ships — Ali insisted his pirates will fight back.

"That will never happen again," Ali said. "Anyone who tries to attack us or deceive us will face bad repercussions."

Somalia's president, Abdullahi Yusuf, urged foreign nations to help Somalis fight piracy.

"The government has lost patience and now wants to fight pirates with the help of the international community," he said Wednesday in a radio address.

'We only need money'
The pirates and the shipping company have been negotiating over the US$20 million ransom demands.

Ali also distanced himself from reports quoting a leader of Somalia's Islamic insurgency, who urged the pirates to destroy the ship if they are not paid.

"We have nothing to do with insurgents or terrorist organizations, we only need money," Ali said, adding that a plan was in place to release the ship and its crew of 20 once the received the ransom.

Video: Standoff

Moscow has sent a warship to protect the few Russian hostages on board the Faina, but it will take several more days to arrive. The Russians have used commando tactics to end several hostage situations in the past, but scores of hostages have died in those efforts.

Some 26 ships have been hijacked of the notorious African waters this year.

The Faina case, the most high-profile hijacking off Somalia's lawless coast, has highlighted how the country's increasingly brazen pirates are drawing the concern of global superpowers along one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Pentagon declines comment
In the past, the U.S. military has launched air strikes in Somalia and is known to have secretly sent special forces into Somalia to go after militants linked to al-Qaida.

In Washington, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to comment on any possible military operations but said the U.S. was continuing to monitor the situation and remains concerned that the cargo not fall into the wrong hands.

Whitman would not give details of any new or existing agreement the U.S. has with the Somalis.

"(The U.S.) works closely with its partners in the region to identify, locate, capture and if necessary kill terrorists where they operate, plan their operations or seek save harbor," he said.

Russia has used force in the past to end several hostage situations — sometimes disastrously, as in the 2004 storming of a school in Beslan, which resulted in 333 deaths, nearly half of them children.

But in Moscow, the Russian navy's chief spokesman sought to play down the possibility of using force in Somalia.

"Taking forceful measures, for obvious reasons, is an extreme measure, as this could create a threat to the lives of the international crew of the cargo ship," the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Capt. Igor Dygalo as saying.

He said the frigate's task was to protect Russian ships in the dangerous waters off Somalia and suggested it would mainly prevent further pirate attacks.

Lt. Stephanie Murdock, a U.S. 5th Fleet spokeswoman, said the Americans have not had any contact with the Russian ship yet but will when it arrives.

"We will be happy to work with them once they arrive, it's partly their crew and their cargo aboard," she said by phone from Bahrain.

There was no reaction Wednesday from the estimated 30 hijackers on board the Faina to the prospect of facing some of the world's most powerful navies. Their spokesman did not answer his satellite phone.

Piracy is rife off the coast of Somalia, emerging as a lucrative criminal racket brining in millions of dollars in ransom. The pirates rarely hurt their hostages, hoping instead to hold out for a huge payday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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