By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN, Associated Press
MOGADISHU, Somalia – A U.S. destroyer off the coast of Somalia closed in Saturday on a hijacked Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and ammunition, watching it to ensure the pirates who seized it do not try to remove any cargo or crew.
In this May 28, 2008 file photo, the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Howard, sails off the coast of Hawaii during sonar exercises, on Wednesday, May 28, 2008. The Howard, off the coast of Somalia closed in Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008, on a hijacked Ukrainian ship loaded with tanks and ammunition, watching it to ensure the pirates who seized it do not try to remove any cargo or crew. (AP Photo/Hugh E. Gentry, File)
As Russian and American ships pursued the hijackers of the Ukrainian-operated vessel, pirates seized another ship off Somalia’s coast, an international anti-piracy group said.
The Greek tanker with a crew of 19 is carrying refined petroleum from Europe to the Middle East. It was ambushed Friday in the , said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center based in Malaysia. He said pirates chased and fired at the ship before boarding it.
In Somalia, a man claiming to be spokesman of the pirates holding the Ukrainian ship said the hijackers want $35 million to release the vessel. But there was no way to immediately verify his claim that he represented the pirates.
On Thursday, pirates seized the Ukrainian ship Faina en route to Kenya with 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Russia’s navy said Friday it had dispatched a warship to the area, and the United States said American were tracking the Ukrainian ship with special concern because of the weaponry on board.
The hijackings were the latest in a series of audacious maritime attacks off the coast of Somalia, a war-torn country that has been without a functioning government since 1991.
A U.S. defense official said theis pursuing the hijacked Ukrainian vessel and is now within a few thousand yards of it. The hijacked ship is anchored a few miles off the Somalia coast, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
The destroyer is watching to make sure the pirates do not try to remove anything, the official added.