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Extra forces to hijacked arms ship.

Byline: By ED JAMES

MORE US Navy forces were sent to surround a hijacked ship loaded with Russian-made tanks yesterday.

Extra destroyers and cruisers were deployed with in 10 miles of the Ukrainian vessel Faina being held by Somali pirates because of "great concern" over the possibility of the tanks and other weapons aboard the ship falling "into the wrong hands," said a spokesman for the 5th Fleet.

American helicopters were flying over the ship in the Indian Ocean after the pirates demanded EUR20mto release the ship and its cargo.

The navy spokesman said the weapons had been bound for Sudan and not Kenya, which had been claimed to be the arms' destination.

The 5th Fleet said the ship was heading for the Kenyan port of Mombassa, but that "additional reports state the cargo was intended for Sudan".

It did not specify whether the arms were intended for the Khartoum-based government, or southern Sudan, which was granted a degree of autonomy under a 2005 peace deal that also guaranteed the oil-rich region a referendum on full independence in 2011.

The UN has imposed an arms embargo on weapons for Sudan's Darfur conflict zone. It does not cover other weapons sales to the governments in Khartoum or southern Sudan.

"We will maintain a vigilant watch over the ship and remain on station while negotiations take place," said Rear Admiral Kendall Card, commander of the task force monitoring the ship.

"Our goal is to ensure the safety of the crew, to not allow off-loading of dangerous cargo and to make certain Faina can return to legitimate shipping."

Kenya had said that the shipment, which includes T-72 battle tanks, was heading there.

American intelligence reports said a few days ago that the cargo's ultimate destination was Sudan and that Kenyawas only a staging point.

The US fears the arms onboard the Fainamay fall into the hands of al Qaida-linked Islamic insurgents who have been fighting the shaky UN-backed Somali transitional government since late 2006.

The 21-member crew held off Somalia's coast since Thursday compromises of citizens from Ukraine, Russia and Latvia.

The pirates anchored the vessel off Somalia's coast near the central town of Hobyo.


This US Navy photo shows Somali pirates in small boats alongside the hijacked Faina on Sunday
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2008
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