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Ukraine says Somali pirates may release Faina 'tank ship' soon

02.12.2008 Source: en.rian.ru

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has received information indicating that the MV Faina cargo ship, seized by Somali pirates almost two months ago, may be released soon, a spokesman said Monday.

The Faina, carrying 33 T-72 tanks and other heavy weaponry, was seized by Somali pirates on September 25. The pirates initially demanded a $35 million ransom, but this has since been lowered to $3 million.

However, Vasiliy Kirilich refused to answer any more questions on the topic, saying it was "not a matter for public discussion."

He did say however that Ukraine had no intention of paying a ransom and that it was involved in "diplomatic measures to speed up the release of the crew of the seized vessel."

France Press reported from the Somali capital of Mogadishu on Sunday that an agreement to release the ship had been reached, and that the vessel and its crew would be freed soon.

The crew is made up of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians, and one 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.

The pirates said nearly three weeks ago that supplies of fresh water and food on board the vessel were running low.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet earlier claimed that the intended destination for the weapons was southern Sudan's rebel region, and not Kenya as had been announced.

Both the Ukrainian and Kenyan authorities have denied the allegation.

News on the possible release of the Faina follows a report that a Saudi supertanker seized by the pirates on November 15 could be released in the next 48 hours.

Somali pirates have attacked around 90 ships so far this year, resulting in the seizure of around 39 vessels, including 200 crew members. The east African nation has been without a functioning government since 1991.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his quarterly report to the UN Security Council in November that pirates had earned up to $30 million in ransoms this year. The Security Council has also adopted a British-proposed resolution on tougher sanctions against Somalia over the country's failure to prevent a surge in sea piracy.

NATO and the EU are to launch on December 8 a joint naval operation, dubbed Atalanta, against piracy near the coast of Somalia. The operation could involve up to 10 warships.

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