Somali Pirates Withdraw Threat to Destroy Ship

Somali pirates holding an arms-laden Ukrainian ship have withdrawn their threat to blow up the vessel if a ransom is not paid, and said Wednesday they are negotiating for its release.

The pirates, whose original $20 million ransom demand appears to have decreased to $8 million, had threatened to destroy the MV Faina by early Tuesday.

"We have withdrawn it," spokesman Sugule Ali told The Associated Press on Wednesday by satellite phone from the ship, which pirates seized with its cargo of tanks and heavy weapons off the coast of Somalia on Sept. 25.

The Faina is one of 29 ships hijacked this year off the African coast. The latest is a Philippine bulk carrier seized in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday with a crew of 21, Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau said from his base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Choong said the Philippines-operated ship, flying a Panamanian flag, had been sailing from the Middle East to Asia when it was seized.

He said 11 of the hijacked ships remain in the hands of pirates, along with more than 200 crew members.

Relatives of Ukrainian crew members on the Faina have insisted their government pay the ransom.

Ali, the pirate spokesman, said negotiations were going very well, but he declined to say who was negotiating. In the past they have said they were talking with the ship's owner. The Tomex Corp. of Odessa, Ukraine, which operates the ship, has not commented on negotiations.

The Faina has drawn particular concern because of its military cargo. U.S. warships have surrounded it since the beginning of the incident to prevent pirates from unloading the weapons.

International pressure on the pirates is growing. NATO is sending seven ships to the waters where the Faina is held.

The European Union, which is sending a naval force to the area conduct anti-piracy operations, said Wednesday that preparations to dispatch the ships in December were going according to plan and that member states had agreed to appoint a British vice admiral to lead it.

Russia has announced it would cooperate with the West on fighting the pirates.