Tank ship pirates 'open to a deal'

Somali pirates holding a cargo ship full of battle tanks are trying to negotiate for its release after failing in their demand for £10m (€12.7m).

Somali pirates holding a cargo ship full of battle tanks are trying to negotiate for its release after failing in their demand for £10m (€12.7m).

The bandits who boarded and seized the Faina two weeks ago originally said they would never lower the ransom.

But their spokesman said today they were now prepared to hold talks about a deal.

He said Ali via satellite phone that "we are open for give-and-take negotiations".

The group appeared to be softening their stance in the face of a growing international threat of force. The Ukrainian ship is now surrounded by warships from the US and Russia.

Earlier the US Navy said the 20 crew members aboard the Faina were living in fear.

"They want it to end peaceful and quickly," said a spokesman from the US 5th Fleet, adding the navy was in regular radio contact with the crew.

But the pirate spokesman claimed the crew was holding up well.

"Their chef still prepares their food for them," he said. "They are healthy and have no worries. But of course their only worry is when they will gain their freedom. Their feeling is typically that of hostages - no more, no less."

Somalia's government has given foreign powers permission to use force against the pirates, raising the stakes significantly.

But the pirate spokesman said: "We will cause a lot of problems for the world if they insist on fighting us."

The Faina's hijacking, the most high-profile off Somalia this year, illustrates the ability of pirates from a failed state to menace a key international shipping lane despite the deployment of warships by global powers.

More than two dozen ships have been hijacked off Somalia's coast this year.

Meanwhile a Nato source said defence ministers have agreed to send warships to escort vessels off the coast of Somalia.

The ministers agreed the ships would be sent "soon" and would work with other organisations including the European Union.

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