By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, October 2, 2008
CAIRO, Oct. 1 -- With U.S. warships offshore and a Russian missile frigate on the way, Somalia's president, Abdullahi Yusuf, said Wednesday that he welcomed international intervention against Somali pirates roaming a main East-West shipping route.
The hijacking last Thursday of a Ukrainian-operated vessel carrying T-72 tanks and other weapons has galvanized the world's leading navies after more than 60 other pirate attacks this year on ships off Somalia and in the nearby Gulf of Aden.
The defense chiefs of eight European Union countries joined the fight Wednesday, agreeing to move toward creating a maritime security force against piracy, French Defense Minister Hervé Morin said in Paris.
In Somalia, Yusuf urged Somalis to turn against the pirate gangs.
"I also call on the international community to act quickly on what is happening in Somali waters as well as onshore," he told reporters in the capital, Mogadishu. "We must do everything we can to stop piracy off the coast of Somalia."
The pirates had imposed an "embargo" against Somalia and other countries by preventing trade and food deliveries, he said.
The pirates are holding the Ukrainian-operated Faina a few miles off eastern Somalia. They have demanded $20 million for the release of the vessel and its crew of 13 Ukrainians, seven Russians and one other Eastern European. The ship's captain died of natural causes shortly after the hijacking, the pirates have said by satellite telephone.
The United States has deployed an unspecified number of warships and aircraft within sight of the Faina, and U.S. Navy officials have said they are intent on ensuring that the pirates do not unload the arms.
Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said Russian commanders hope for a peaceful end to the hijacking, independent and state news agencies reported Wednesday.
"Taking forceful measures, for obvious reasons, is an extreme measure, as this could create a threat to the lives of the international crew of the cargo ship," Dygalo was quoted as saying.
Somalia's ambassador to Russia, Mohammed Mahmud Handule, said Somalia had authorized Russia "to fight the pirates in the sea and on the coast." He praised Russia's deployment and said Somalia was "not satisfied" with the results of actions taken by other navies. He did not specify the countries.
The U.S. Navy is the leading force in the blockade of the pirates. A Bahrain-based international coalition that includes the militaries of the United States and 19 other nations stepped up patrols against the pirates in mid-August as pirate attacks soared.
Handule also said Somalia would follow Russia in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway regions of Georgia. Few other countries have done so; the move is seen as condoning Russia's invasion of Georgia in August.
Yusuf is head of a near-powerless Somali government that is propped up by the United States and other countries and by an occupying military force from neighboring Ethiopia. In recent weeks, fighting between government forces and Islamist insurgents has intensified.
Rival clans have held sway in Somalia for most of the time since the country's last functioning government was overthrown in 1991.