Somali Pirates Appear To Be Reducing Ransom

Somali Pirates Appear To Be Reducing Ransom
October 2nd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Somali Pirates Appear To Be Reducing Ransom

Somali Pirates Appear To Be Reducing Ransom
New York Times
October 2, 2008
Pg. 12

By Jeffrey Gettleman
NAIROBI, Kenya — Negotiations over the arms-laden freighter hijacked by Somali pirates intensified Wednesday, and several people close to the talks said the standoff had come down to price.
The pirates, who seized the Ukrainian ship on Sept. 25, initially demanded a $35 million ransom, then dropped it to $20 million, and now it seems they are willing to settle for much less.
“It’s down to $5 million,” said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator for the Seafarers’ Assistance Program in Kenya, which tracks pirate attacks and communicates with the families of crew members. “But this needs to be done quickly. The longer that ship stays in Somalia, the more people who are going to get involved and the greedier they’re going to get.”
“My advice,” said Mr. Mwangura, who has been involved in several hijacking negotiations, “is give these gunmen what they want before the sharks come.”
Western diplomats and Somali officials had talked tough about a military strike against the pirates. The pirates had crossed a red line, diplomats said this week, and there would be no giving in to their demands. Somali officials, in particular, were adamant that paying the pirates, especially in such a well-publicized case, would only fuel more attacks, which have turned Somalia’s waters into the most dangerous and pirate infested in the world. More than 25 ships have been hijacked this year. The going price is usually $1 million to $2 million to free them.
But the pirates do not seem to be giving in either, resupplying themselves with fresh food and water, bringing live animals on deck to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Id al-Fitr and chatting with journalists on their satellite phone. It appears that they do not plan on leaving the ship without getting paid.
And they do not seem especially worried about the five or so American warships bristling with missiles and big guns that are boxing them in against the craggy Somali shore. “We are not scared,” the pirates’ spokesman, Sugule Ali, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “You only die once.”
Western officials have said that this leaves only one other, not-so-appealing option: a commando raid on a huge freighter packed with explosives and with 20 human shields (the crew members, who are mostly Ukrainian, with a couple of Russians). The commando option, for the moment, seems less likely.
“The whole thing now is about the price,” said one Western official involved in the ransom negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “The ship owners are talking with the pirates. But the two sides are still pretty far apart.”
A further complication is Russia. A Russian frigate is steaming toward the coast of Somalia and expected to arrive within days. It was unclear how or even if the American forces would work with the Russians, and Somali officials seemed to be trying to play the two navies against each other.
On Wednesday, a Somali diplomat in Moscow announced that Somalia was inviting Russia to fight the pirates, possibly setting up a cold-war-style duel for influence like the kind that turned Somalia into a dumping ground for weapons — and problems — in the 1970s and ’80s.
Russia is known for its aggressive tactics in hostage situations, and some diplomats worry that the Russians may overreact and storm the ship.
The American military, on the other hand, seems content to baby-sit for the ship for now. American officials said they were most concerned about the cargo, which includes 33 T-72 Soviet-designed battle tanks, grenade launchers, antiaircraft guns and piles of ammunition. Their priority is to make sure the pirates do not unload the arms and sell them to Islamist insurgents battling Somalia’s weak central government. There is no appetite right now to risk American lives to free Ukrainian and Russian sailors, several American officials said.
“I think you will see the pirates’ ransom demands continue to decline the closer the Russian frigate gets to Somalia,” said a senior State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Kenyan politicians have called for military action, saying that the weapons aboard were for the Kenyan military and that they wanted them back. But several American officials have said the weapons were part of a secret — and possibly illegal — arms deal brokered by the Kenyan government for southern Sudan.
The Kenyan government seems to be growing increasingly sensitive about the arms deal. On Wednesday night, police officers arrested Mr. Mwangura, who had said publicly that the weapons were headed for Sudan and that the Ukrainian freighter was a “tricky vessel.” Hassan Omar Hassan, a Kenyan human rights lawyer, said Mr. Mwangura may face charges of making inflammatory statements.
On Wednesday, a relative of one of the Ukrainian sailors said the ship had originally been scheduled to head to Syria with a load of cars.
“All of a sudden the plans changed,” the relative said, asking not to be identified for fear of reprisals against the crew member. “And the crew found out at the last minute that the ship was carrying tanks. They were scared to be sailing past Somalia with tanks.”
Many relatives of the crew are now pleading with the Ukrainian government to help the shipping company pay the ransom, whatever it may be. “We are praying for the government to negotiate,” the relative said. “We just want our people back.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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