Owners of Seized Ukrainian Ship to Pay Ransom to Pirates off Somali Coast

ODESSA, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian company that owns the cargo ship seized 10 days ago by pirates off the Somali coast will pay a ransom to free the 22 sailors, President Viktor Yushchenko's chief-of-staff said Oct. 28.

The pirates hijacked the vessel, Panagia, on Oct. 18 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) off the Somali coast.

The company is ready to pay the $700,000 (585,000 euros) ransom demanded by the pirates, Oleh Rybachuk told reporters, but refused to name the company, saying only that it was based in Ukraine's southern city of Odessa.

"The crew members are in normal conditions and face no threat to their lives," Rybachuk said, adding that Ukraine's Foreign Ministry would continue negotiations with the pirates.

The ship - which had been sailing under a Liberian flag and carrying iron ore from South Africa to Turkey - is currently anchored a few miles (kilometers) off Somalia's east coast.

Piracy is rampant near the coast of Somalia, an important shipping route. The African nation has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The opposition then turned on each other, transforming the nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

Pirates have launched 23 attacks against ships off Somalia's coast since March 15, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy around the world. Experts argue against paying ransom, warning that it only encourages the pirates, but many companies resort to the payments, saying that they have few other alternatives.

Source: AP