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Russia sends Navy ship to Somali coast to fight piracy

September 26, 2008

By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW – Russia’s navy dispatched a warship to Somalia’s coast, officials said Friday, a day after pirates there carried out their boldest attack yet — the capture of a Ukrainian vessel manned with Russian and Ukranian crew and loaded with 33 tanks and ammunition bound for Kenya.

Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said in a statement that the frigate Neustrashimy left the Russia’s Baltic port of Baltiisk on Wednesday. The statement did not specifically mention the seizure of the Ukrainian ship, which happened Thursday.

RFS Neustrashimy (FF 712).jpg

Dygalo did not answer calls that The Associated Press made to his cell phone later Friday.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov, meanwhile, said that the ship, the Faina, was carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Yekhanurov said the tanks were sold in accordance with international law, according to Larisa Mudrak, a spokeswoman for Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

U.S. ships in the area were aware of the seizure of the Ukranian ship and were “monitoring the situation,” said Lt. Nate Christensen a spokesman for the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet based in Bahrain.

“Obviously, we are deeply concerned,” Christensen told The Associated Press. “We have ships in the area and we are monitoring the situation closely. Piracy is an international problem and it requires an international solution.”

He was unable to provide more specifics because of the security issues involved, he said.

A Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, confirmed that the East African nation’s military had ordered the tanks and spare parts and said Kenya had made such a huge order of tanks as part of a two-year rearmament program for the military.

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