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Ransom vessel 'en route to pirate-held Ukrainian ship'

08.12.2008 Source: en.rian.ru

A vessel is believed to be heading for Ukraine's Faina cargo ship to deliver a ransom payment to Somali pirates who seized the ship off the Horn of Africa in September, a Russian shipping news website said on Friday.

Mikhail Boytenko, editor of the Sovfracht maritime bulletin, said that according to various sources, including one in Kenya, "A vessel is approaching the Faina to pay the ransom."

"The U.S. military has moved away from the Faina, to create a corridor for the ransom to be delivered, and to guarantee the pirates safe exit from the ship," he said.

"I cannot confirm or deny this information," he added. "Late yesterday evening I spoke to the ship's owner, and he said that talks had been concluded, but that certain details on the delivery of the ransom payment had to be cleared up."

No details on who was paying the ransom, or the sum involved, were given.

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.

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 four weeks ago that supplies of fresh water and food on board the vessel were already running low.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet previously 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.

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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