MOGADISHU, Somalia – A Somali pirate on a hijacked cargo ship transporting tanks reduced the ransom Tuesday to $8 million, but it was unclear if he was speaking officially for the bandits holding the Ukrainian vessel.
A man who identified himself as Jama Aden and spoke by satellite phone Tuesday is not the usual spokesman for the pirates. He answered the telephone of the spokesman, Sugule Ali, and said Ali was not immediately available.
"There are high hopes we will release the ship within hours if they pay us $8 million," Aden told The Associated Press. "The negotiations with the ship owners are going on well."
The pirates originally demanded $20 million.
Aden said a small boat was resupplying the vessel with food and qat, a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia. "The crew is doing well," he added.
Six U.S. warships are surrounding the Faina, which was hijacked late last month with 21 crew on board. Officials in Moscow say the ship's Russian captain died of a heart condition soon after the hijacking nearly two weeks ago.
A Russian frigate also is headed toward the standoff. The U.S. Navy warships have been tracking the ship amid fears its weapons might fall into the hands of Al Qaeda-linked insurgents in Somalia.
The Faina's hijacking, the most high-profile this year, illustrates the ability of a handful 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.
Somalia's government has given foreign powers the freedom to use force against the pirates, raising the stakes significantly. Russia, whose warship is not expected for several days, has used commando tactics to end several hostage situations on its own soil, but hundreds of hostages have died in those efforts.
Somalia, a nation of around 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. A quarter of Somali children die before age 5 and nearly every public institution has collapsed. Fighting is a daily occurrence, with violent deaths reported nearly every day.
Islamic militants with ties to Al Qaeda have been battling the government and its Ethiopian allies since their combined forces pushed the Islamists from the capital in December 2006. Within weeks of being driven out, the Islamists launched an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Ahmed Jama said the government wants world powers to coordinate their approach to Somalia's insecurity.
It is not an issue "that is going to go away. There are a number of dimensions, whether it is pirates, whether it is humanitarian issues, whether it is counterterrorism," Jama said at a news conference in Kenya's capital.