Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Somalia: Okay, you won't give us $35mil, or $20 mil, how about $5mil?

Pirates decrease ransom amount for MV Faina.

Negotiations over the arms-laden freighter hijacked by Somali pirates intensified on Wednesday and several people close to the talks said the showdown had come down to price.

The pirates, who seized the ship last Thursday, 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.”

Pirates are hunkering down:

But the pirates have hardened their position as well — 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 has become clear that they do not plan on leaving the ship without getting paid.

Moreover, the pirates do not seem especially worried about the five or so American warships bristling with missiles and high-technology weapons that are boxing them in against the craggy Somali shore. The only other option, Western officials have said, is a commando raid, no easy task on a huge freighter packed with explosives and with 20 human shields (the crew, who are mostly Ukrainian with a couple Russians). The commando option, for the moment, seems less likely.

What will the Russians do?

A Russian frigate heading toward the coast of Somalia was expected to arrive within days.. It was unclear how or even if the American forces would work with the Russians, and Somali officials did not appear to be helpful.. On Wednesday, a Somali diplomat in Moscow announced that Somalia was inviting Russia to fight the pirates on sea and on land, possibly setting up a cold war-style duel for influence like the kind that turned Somalia into a dumping ground of weapons — and problems — in the 1970s and 1980s.Russia is known for its aggressive tactics in hostage situations and many diplomats here in Kenya worry the Russians may storm the ship. The American military, on the other hand, seems content to babysit the ship for now.