NAIROBI, Kenya – Food and water are running low on the Ukrainian arms ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and a pirate spokesman warned Thursday if the ship was attacked by NATO forces its 20-man crew would be among those killed.
Spokesman Sugule Ali also mocked comments by Tomex Team, the firm operating the MV Faina cargo ship, which said it has accumulated only $1 million toward the $20 million ransom the pirates initially demanded.
"That is worthless," he said. "It would only pay for several nights' stay in a hotel!"
However, Ali declined to say whether the pirates had lowered their ransom request.
He told the Associated Press that supplies were running out but the pirates would share what remained with the crew.
"We Somalis don't eat in front of a hungry person," he said, speaking Thursday by satellite phone. "We will share our food with them."
But he repeated his promise to fight back if attacked, regardless of the arrival of a flotilla of NATO warships in the next few days.
"Either we get the money or hold onto the ship. And if attacked, we will fight back to the bitter end," Ali said.
"The important thing, though, is if we die they will die too," he added, referring to the Faina's crew.
The Faina was heading for a Kenyan port with a cargo of 33 battle tanks and heavy weapons when armed pirates seized it Sept. 25 off coast of Somalia. The ship is now anchored off Somalia's coast near the central town of Hobyo, where Ali was seeking medical treatment Thursday.
U.S. warships have surrounded the Faina for weeks, making sure its heavy weapons don't fall into the hands of any insurgent groups linked to Al Qaeda.
Pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia this year have surged 75 percent, the International Maritime Bureau said Thursday, calling for serious international action against the brigands who "operate with impunity."
It says the waters off Somalia, including the Gulf of Aden, are the world's most dangerous, accounting for 63 — or nearly a third — of the 199 reported pirate attacks worldwide between January and September 2008.
The agency urged navies around the world to target the pirate's main supply ships before they succeed in hijacking cargo vessels.
"The locations and descriptions of these mother ships are known. We therefore call upon all governments to direct their navies to disrupt the activities of the pirates and their mother ships. This is vital to protect this major world seaway," bureau director Pottengal Mukundan said in a statement.
The lawless Horn of Africa nation has had no central government since a group of clan-based warlords overthrew a socialist dictator in 1991.
Today, France's Defense Ministry says the French Navy has captured nine pirates near the Gulf of Aden and handed them over to Somali authorities.