From: Yemane Natnael (email@example.com)
Date: Sun Nov 30 2008 - 20:45:50 EST
Owners of pirated Ukrainian freighter reach deal on ransom
By Jeffrey Gettleman
Published: November 30, 2008
NAIROBI: The saga over the pirated Ukrainian freighter stuffed with weapons may be coming to an end.
Andrew Mwangura, head of a Kenyan maritime association, said the Somali pirates who captured the freighter more than two months ago have reached an agreement with the ship's owners on a ransom, though he would not reveal the amount. The only thing left to figure out, he said, is how to get the ransom to the pirates and regain the ship - no simple feat with a half-dozen American and European vessels circling the freighter and a band of jumpy pirates aboard.
"There is some good news," Mwangura said Sunday. "Both sides have agreed. They are now working on modalities of transferring the money."
Mwangura, who has helped several times before in the delicate negotiations over hijacked ships and has a network of seamen in Kenya and Somalia, said he expected the situation to be resolved peacefully in the coming days.
A businessman in Xarardheere, the sun-baked pirate den on the Somali coast near where the freighter is anchored, said that he spoke to the pirates Sunday via radio and that they said the ship would be freed in "the next day or so." The businessman, who declined to be identified, helps supply the pirates with milk, water, goats and cartons of cigarettes.
But this is not the first time there have been such hopes. The Ukrainian ship was hijacked Sept. 25, hundreds of kilometers off Somalia's coast, and several times a deal has seemed tantalizingly close only to implode in recriminations and disputes over money.
On Sunday night, a Western diplomat in Kenya with knowledge of the negotiations said he had heard there might be a deal, but he could not confirm it. Although the pirates first demanded an astronomical ransom - $35 million - maritime officials in Kenya said the ultimate price would most likely be around $3 million to $5 million.
Somalia has been plagued by pirates for years. But the hijacking of the Ukrainian ship rang alarm bells around the world because of its cargo: 33 Soviet-era battle tanks, 150 grenade launchers, 6 antiaircraft guns and heaps of ammunition. Western powers, including the United States and Russia, fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist insurgents who are gobbling up territory across Somalia and who are widely believed to be providing sanctuary to terrorists from Al Qaeda. Somalia has not had a functioning central government for nearly 18 years.
The United States, Russia, India, NATO and the European Union have all sent warships to Somalia's waters, but the piracy problem still rages. An enormous Saudi supertanker carrying $100 million of oil was hijacked last month, and that ship, along with about a dozen others, is still being held.
Mohammed Ibrahim contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.
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