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Somali pirates want $15 million for Saudi ship: Islamist
Mon Nov 24, 2008 7:26am EST
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By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates holding a Saudi supertanker after the largest hijacking in maritime history have reduced their ransom demand to $15 million, an Islamist leader and regional maritime group both said on Monday.
The November 15 capture of the Sirius Star -- with $100 million of oil and 25 crew members from Britain, Poland, Croatia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines -- has focused world attention on rampant piracy off the failed Horn of Africa state.
Scores of attacks this year have brought millions of dollars of ransom payments, hiked up shipping insurance costs, sent foreign naval patrols rushing to the area, and left about a dozen boats with more than 200 hostages still in pirate hands.
The gang had originally been quoted as wanting $25 million to release the Sirius Star, which was captured far from Somali waters about 450 nautical miles southeast of Kenya.
But Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Isse Adow, whose men are in the Haradheere area where the ship is being held offshore, said the demand went down. "Middlemen have given a $15 million ransom figure for the Saudi ship. That is the issue now," he said.
Residents say pirates have taken the ship further out to about 100 km (62 miles) off the coast of central Somalia after Islamist militia poured into the town in search of the pirates.
Adow, who represents the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), says his men are out to confront the pirates and free the Saudi Arabian Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) because it is a "Muslim" ship. But residents say other Islamist militia want a cut of any ransom payment.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Mombasa-based East Africa Seafarers Programme, said his sources were confirming a reduced $15 million demand. "The ship has moved into deeper waters, but it cannot go too far because of patrols," he said.
More than a dozen foreign warships are in the area, though analysts say the range Somali pirates operate in are too vast to ever properly control.
The capture of the Sirius Star has stirred up the small dusty harbor of Haradheere into a frenzy of activity, witnesses say, with armed men riding back and forth on cars all over town.
The Islamists, who have been fighting the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies for two years, denounce piracy in public. But analysts say some factions are taking a share of spoils and using pirates to enable weapons deliveries by sea.
Senior Somali officials are also on the take from piracy, diplomats in the region say. The government denies that.
"We are against this act and we shall hunt the ship wherever it sails, and free it," Islamist spokesman Adow said.
Piracy has flourished off Somalia thanks to chaos onshore. Continued...
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