MOGADISHU (AFP) — Russia announced Thursday it would send more warships to combat piracy in the waters around Somalia, as the Saudi owners of the Sirius Star negotiated with the pirates holding their oil tanker.
Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the top commander of the Russian navy, made the announcement according to a report by RIA Novosti news agency.
"After the Neustrashimy (Fearless), ships from other fleets of the Russian navy will head to the region," Vysotsky said, referring to a frigate sent to the area in September.
"This is needed because of the situation that has developed in the vicinity of the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates have sharply increased their activities," he said, according to RIA Novosti.
The announcement from Moscow was the latest sign of growing international frustration over a situation described by the International Maritime Bureau as "out of control".
Somali pirates who hijacked the Sirius Star said Thursday they wanted 25 million dollars and have set a 10-day deadline.
"We are demanding 25 million dollars from the Saudi owners of the tanker. We do not want long-term discussions to resolve the matter," Mohamed Said told AFP from the ship anchored off the Somali coast.
"The Saudis have 10 days to comply, otherwise we will take action that could be disastrous," Said added, without elaborating.
The company which operates the Sirius Star has remained tight-lipped about the claims of negotiations.
"We cannot confirm, nor deny" reports of negotiations with the hijackers, said Mihir Sapur, the spokesman of Vela International, a subsidiary of Saudi oil giant Saudi Aramco.
But Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, told reporters in Rome on Wednesday: "I know that the owners of the tanker, they are negotiating on the issue."
Seized in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles (800 kilometres) off the east African coast on Saturday, the Sirius Star is now anchored at the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere, according to local officials.
The super-tanker was loaded to capacity with two million barrels of oil when it was seized along with its crew of 25 -- 19 from the Philippines, two from Britain, two from Poland, one Croatian and one Saudi.
It was the largest ship yet taken by Somali pirates and the attack furthest away from Somalia.
The Indian frigate INS Tabar, one of dozens of warships from several countries protecting commercial shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden, sank a Somali pirate ship late Tuesday after coming under fire, navy spokesman Nirad Sinha said.
Pirates use mother ships, generally hijacked trawlers or deep-sea dhows, to tow speedboats from which they launch their attacks with grapnel hooks tied to rope ladders before neutralising the crews at gunpoint.
The incident came as shipping groups reported a new surge in hijackings off Somalia, with three captured since the Sirius Star was taken.
On Wednesday, pirates released another Hong Kong-flagged ship, MV Great Creation, and its 25 crew seized two months ago.
Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting centre at the IMB in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, said "the situation is already out of control."
But the United States, which also has warships patrolling off Somalia, said a military approach was not the answer to a surge of piracy off the Horn of Africa.
"You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it's not going to ever solve this problem," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
"It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development," he told reporters.
Morrell said at least 18 ships are currently being held for ransom by Somali pirates, along with 330 mariners taken hostage. This year there have been 95 attempted ship seizures by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, 39 of them successful.
The European Union said Tuesday it would launch its anti-piracy operation -- its first-ever -- off Somalia December 8.
But the piracy threat has already prompted Norwegian shipping company Odfjell to order its ships to use the longer, more expensive but safer route around Cape of Good Hope, thus avoiding the Suez Canal and the Somali coast.
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