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Relatives raise money for seized Ukrainian ship
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09:06, October 20, 2008

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Relatives and families of the hijacked Ukrainian ship have raised money to pay Somali pirates who are demanding eight million U.S. dollars to release the crew who were seized last month, a regional maritime official said on Sunday.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said the relatives and friends in Russian and Ukraine have raised eight million dollar ransom which is expected to be handed over to the pirates sometimes this week.

"Friends and relatives of the 17 Ukrainian crew members of the ill-fated MV Faina have collected money for ransom," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone on Sunday.

"Most of the money had come from leading politicians including the former Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yamukovyeh," he said.

The development, however, contradicts the position taken by the Kenyan government which has maintained that it will not pay ransom, arguing that such move would encourage the continuation of such acts.

Last week, Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetangula said he was confident that the pirates will not carry the threat to blow the ship. The minister also said the economies of countries along the Indian Ocean shoreline have been seriously affected by piracy.

He urged the international community to urgently assist in patrolling the unsafe waters near Somalia which has been without a proper government for decades.

"The cost of doing business alone particularly along this region is going up. Insurance is going up. Some shipping lines fear coming here and this is affecting us all the way to South Africa," he said.

He pointed out that most countries along the coastline lacked the necessary naval resources to adequately deal with the pirates who have attacked at least 69 ships since the start of this year.

The ship is carrying tanks and other weapons which were destined for the port of Mombasa but the ultimate destination has been a source of controversy with suggestions that the arms were headed to southern Sudan and not Kenya.

The Somali pirates had issued 72-hour deadline for the ransom to be paid or else they blow up the Ukraine ship but analysts say it was a negotiation gimmick. They have since withdrawn the deadline.

The government maintains that the Russian-made arms were being delivered to Kenya to be used by its military.

But BBC News revealed early this month what it said was a copy of the freight manifest aboard the hijacked ship, MV Faina.

The alleged manifest shows contract numbers for 33 T-72 tanks, grenade launchers and anti-aircraft guns containing the initials GOSS, which is an abbreviation commonly used in the region to refer to the government of southern Sudan.

The manifest names Kenya's defense ministry as the consignee. Oil-rich southern Sudan, which fought a 20-year-long civil war with the northern government in Khartoum, is believed by many in the region to be in an arms build-up before the territory's 2011 referendum on secession.

Last week, Sudan summoned the Kenyan and Ethiopian ambassadors to protest against what it said were illegal shipments of arms to its semi-autonomous south.

Sudanese energy minister has put off a planned visit to Kenya this week in protest over "violations" linked to an arms shipment that Western diplomats said was bound for southern Sudan, and a plane-load of weapons from Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, Mwangura said all crew members of the seized MV Stolt Valor are safe but under severe distress due to the deteriorating living conditions.

He said humanitarian efforts to supply water and food was underway on Saturday evening, but the gunmen holding the ship have not yet allowed it to come aboard.


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