19 December 2008

Pirates to receive millions in ransom for release of arms ship

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From Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pirates holding a ship full of tanks and ammunition off the coast of Somalia are likely to be paid millions of dollars in ransom within days, senior U.S. military officials said.

The pirates have been holding the Ukrainian-operated, Belize-flagged MV Faina and its 20-person crew in the Gulf of Aden since September 25.

Military officials said the cash payment will be brought on the ship, directly to the pirates. Such a procedure is common because of the lack of electronic banking in Somalia.

The officials would not say how much ransom is being paid or who is paying it because it would be up to the individuals or company to make that announcement.

What's known is that the pirates originally asked for a $35 million ransom, but lowered their demand to $20 million, Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya Seafarers Association told CNN in November.

The ship is laden with Soviet-era tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms.

The merchant vessel was heading for Kenya, whose government had bought the weapons from Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Officials said a ransom was close to being paid to the pirates weeks ago, but it did not come through and the merchant vessel remained under control of the hijackers.

The captain of the ship died of a heart attack days after the hijacking. His body remains on the ship, kept in a giant cooler to slow down decomposition, officials said.

The U.S. Navy has been shadowing the Faina every day since its capture, officials said. There has been some communication with the pirates during that time, such as checks on the status of the crew.

The Pentagon has been very interested in this hijacking because of concerns that the large amount of ammunition on board might be taken off the ship and put into the hands of gangs on the Somali shore.

Navy officials said its ships would offer medical aid and food to the crew once the pirates give up the ship.

Pirate activity off the coastline of east Africa is a cause of growing international concern, with a number of ships -- including the Saudi-owned supertanker Sirius Star -- being captured in the past few weeks.

The Gulf of Aden is now being patrolled by a number of international navies.


02 December 2008

CNN Special Section: Troubled Waters

CNN Special Section on Piracy


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Luxury cruise ship outruns pirates

(CNN) -- A 30,000-ton luxury cruise ship outran pirates off the coast of Yemen this weekend, the ship's owner said Monday.

The Nautica was in an area patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces when two small skiffs appeared to try to intercept it, Oceania spokesman Tim Rubacky said.

The ship took evasive maneuvers and accelerated to its full speed of 23 knots or 27 mph. One of the smaller craft closed to within 300 yards and fired eight rifle shots at the cruise ship, he said, but the ship was able to pull away.

It was the first report of a pirate attack on a passenger ship of its size this year, said Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau, which runs a piracy reporting center.

"There have been a couple of passenger yachts hijacked, but they were much smaller," he said. It is "quite common" for pirates to target ships the size of the Nautica and even larger, he said, but they tend to be cargo ships, not passenger vessels. Map of pirate activity in the area »

The Nautica escaped without damage or injury to its 684 passengers and 400 crew, and arrived safely on schedule in Salalah, Oman early on Monday morning, Rubacky said.

He emphasized that the ship was not off the coast of Somalia, which has become a base for pirates, but off the coast of Yemen.

The International Maritime Bureau has issued piracy warnings for both areas. The Nautica was in a Maritime Safety Protection Area which is patrolled by international anti-piracy task forces, Rubacky underlined.

But the International Maritime Bureau's Mody warned that there was only so much navies could do even in that zone. "The zone has been created to enable navies to patrol and concentrate on a much smaller area than the entire Gulf," he said.

"But, saying that, it is still a large area. Vessels do not automatically get guaranteed safe passage even if they use it."

The Nautica left Rome November 18 on a 32-day cruise to Singapore. It was the first time one of the company's cruise ships had encountered possible pirates, Rubacky added.

He said the company did not plan to change routes to avoid the area, which has seen increasingly audacious piracy in recent months. "We're not considering re-routing as the Gulf of Aden is the most viable gateway from the Med to Asia," he said.

On Sunday, an official from the Kenya Seafarers Association said pirates have reached a deal with the owners of a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms that was seized more than two months ago.

"A deal has been reached to free the MV Faina. Talks on how to deliver the ransom money are ongoing," Andrew Mwangura of the association told CNN.

It is not clear how long those talks will take, but the ship could be freed as soon as an agreement has been reached.

The ship, which is laden with Soviet-era tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms, was seized on September 25.

It was heading for Kenya, whose government had bought the weapons from Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

The pirates originally asked for a $35 million ransom, but lowered their demand to $20 million, he said.

The Faina is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine, and its crew includes citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Latvia, the Navy said.


No way to stop us, pirate leader says

From David McKenzie

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- Somalis are so desperate to survive that attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean will not stop, a pirate leader promises.

"The pirates are living between life and death," said the pirate leader, identified by only one name, Boyah. "Who can stop them? Americans and British all put together cannot do anything."

The interview with the pirate was conducted in late August by journalists employed by the Somali news organization Garowe. The complete interview was provided to CNN last week and provides a glimpse of why piracy has been so hard to control in the region.

Recorded on grainy video, the interview took place in the Somali port city of Eyl, now a center of pirate operations. Eyl is on the east coast of Somalia in the autonomous territory of Puntland. It is a largely lawless zone, considered extremely dangerous for Westerners to enter.

The Puntland government said two unidentified Western journalists were taken hostage Wednesday as they attempted to report on pirate activity.

Boyah said that the piracy began because traditional coastal fishing became difficult after foreign fishing trawlers depleted local fish stocks. Traditional fishermen started attacking the trawlers until the trawler crews fought back with heavy weapons. The fishermen then turned to softer targets. VideoWatch why fishermen turned to piracy »

"We went into the deep ocean and hijacked the unarmed cargo ships," Boyah said.

"For the past three years, we have not operated near the Somali coast. We have operated at least 80 miles [out], in international waters."

When merchant shipping started avoiding the Somali coast, Boyah said, "we went to ships traveling other routes."

Over the past year, the number of pirate attacks has increased dramatically. The International Maritime Bureau cites more than 90 pirate attacks off East Africa so far in 2008. When attacks are successful, the hijacked ships are taken to Somali waters, where the ships and crew are held until a ransom is paid. See how pirate attacks have increased »

Ships recently captured include a massive Saudi supertanker laden with crude oil valued at more than $100 million and a freighter carrying Russian-built tanks.

The hijackings have been profitable. Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, estimates the pirates have been paid more than $150 million during the past year. One pirate gang wants $2 million dollars to release a Yemeni freighter and crew seized last week.

Facing increasing disruptions through one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, several countries have sent warships to patrol the area. There have been reports of skirmishes between pirates and naval forces, but the military presence does not concern pirate leader Boyah. He boasts the pirates literally sail in a vast ocean beneath the radar of the warships. VideoWatch how piracy thrives off Somalia »

"No ship has the capability to see everything," he said. "A ship can see 80 miles or so [on radar]. It cannot see us at all. No one can do anything about it."

Boyah said it is unlikely the Puntland regional government would ever crack down on piracy because government officials are involved in financing the piracy and collect a cut of the ransoms.

"They motivate us. It's their money and their weapons," Boyah said. "Thirty percent belongs to them."

The Puntland foreign minister, Ali Abdi Aware, denied government involvement with the pirates, including taking bribes. The minister cited the arrest of six pirates earlier this year as evidence it is acting to stop piracy.

Pirate Boyah said he is unimpressed with the arrests by Puntland authorities.

"The pirates are at sea and Puntland does not approach them. The pirates are on land and Puntland does not approach them," Boyah said. "They arrest some small people and tell the world that they captured pirates, but they are liars."

While Boyah may have been outspoken about the government's ineffectiveness, he did not allow interviewers to show his face, an indication that even in this lawless country, pirates still have some fear.