Image: Olena Prysukha, Ukraine
Efrem Lukatsky  /  AP
Olena Prysukha, wife an aide to the captain of the Ukrainian MV Faina captured by pirates off the coast of Somalia, holds up a letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev, Ukraine on Monday.
updated 10/13/2008 3:50:23 PM ET 2008-10-13T19:50:23

Angry relatives of crew members on a hijacked Ukrainian arms ship demanded Monday that Ukrainian government stop delaying and just pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to the Somali pirates holding the ship.

The relatives accused the authorities of inaction in the crisis, which has dragged on for more than two weeks. They tried and failed Monday to meet with President Viktor Yushchenko over the ransom demand, which began at $20 million and has since appeared to drop.

The pirates have threatened to blow up the vessel and the crew Monday night or early Tuesday unless the ship owners pay the ransom.

"We will not leave until we meet with the president," said Yelena Priskha, 41, as she stood outside Yushchenko's office. "We will sleep on the stairs and will collect the money ourselves."

Her husband Olexandr is one of 20 crew on the MV Faina, which is carrying 33 battle tanks and other heavy weapons that the United States and other nations fear could fall into the hands of al-Qaida-linked Somali insurgents.

Against using force
An official at the president's office said Yushchenko was in a meeting and could not see the relatives immediately.

The Ukrainian government says it is against using force in the dispute, but as a matter of policy it will not negotiate with terrorists. The Somali government has authorized nations to use military force to end the hijacking.

Svetlana Mgeladze, 56, whose son Roland is on the Faina, accused authorities of being more interested in the arms trade than in saving the lives of the crew.

"They talk about their weapons here and I have a 22-year-old son there," she said.

Sugule Ali, a spokesman for the pirates, said negotiations with the shipping company were continuing. Regarding the ransom, he said: "It is before Tuesday or never."

The ship's operator, the Tomex Corp. of Odessa, Ukraine, has not commented on negotiations.

The threat by the pirates on the Faina was unusual. Pirates operating off Somalia rarely harm their hostages, instead holding out for ransoms that often exceed U.S. $1 million.

Pirates have seized more than two dozen ships this year off the Horn of Africa, but the Faina has drawn intense interest because of its military cargo. U.S. warships have surrounded it since the beginning, to prevent the pirates from unloading the weapons.

International pressure on the pirates is growing. NATO is sending seven ships to the treacherous waters where the Faina is being held, and the Russian missile cruiser Intrepid is on its way as well.

The ship's Russian captain died of a heart condition soon after the hijacking.

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

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