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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian naval tanker to join warship in African waters

RIA Novosti

03/11/2008 15:57 MOSCOW, November 3 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian Baltic Fleet tanker is to join a naval frigate involved in protecting merchant ships from pirates in African waters, a naval source said on Monday.

The Neustrashimy (Fearless) frigate entered waters off the Somali coast last Monday where local pirates have increased their attacks on ships in the area in exchange for ransom demands.

"At the moment, the Neustrashimy frigate is escorting a merchant ship through the dangerous shipping zone in the Horn of Africa. The Russian combat vessel is ensuring the safety of Russian merchant shipping through the zone," the source said, adding that the Baltic Fleet's Yelnya was expected to join the Neustrashimy in the near future.

He also said that the frigate's commander was maintaining contact with NATO ships in the area as part of a coordinated approach to fighting piracy in the region.

U.S. warships from the 5th Fleet have surrounded a Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, which was seized by Somali pirates on September 25. The Faina, which was carrying tanks and heavy weaponry, has a crew of 17 Ukrainian nationals, two Russians, and one Lithuanian on board.

The Faina's Russian captain died of a heart attack when the ship was seized. Earlier the pirates were reported to have demanded an $8 million ransom to free the ship's crew.

The London-based As-Shark al-Ausat newspaper, however, cited on Saturday anonymous sources in Somalia as saying the pirates were demanding a $5 million ransom for the release of the ship's crew and that the hostage talks were entering their final stage.

Somali pirates have seized around 30 ships so far this year off the coast of the east African nation, which has no effective government and no navy to police its coastline.

NATO and EU announced plans to increase their naval presence in the Gulf of Aden, which has been declared one of the busiest and most dangerous shipping lanes with about 20,000 vessels passing through the area annually.

At the beginning of June, the UN Security Council passed a resolution permitting countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters to combat "acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea."

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