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Pirates demand talks

Somali pirates demanding $25m for a Saudi supertanker call for stepped up and "honest" talks to free the vessel.

Somali pirates demanding US$25 million (Dh91m) for a Saudi supertanker called today for stepped up and "honest" talks to free the vessel ahead of the Nov 30 ransom deadline. Mohammed Said, the leader of the group that captured the Sirius Star 11 days ago, said protracted talks were neither helping them, the ship's owners or the crew. "We are urging the owners of the Saudi tanker to have an honest dialogue in order to end the crisis," he said.

"We need [the vessel's owners] to call their captain and our members on the Sirius Star so we can speed up the negotiations. "Too much delay is not good for us and for the owners of the tanker and the crew as well. We are not threatening them but we are urging them to be honest." The 330-metre oil carrier is the biggest vessel ever seized by pirates and is carrying two million barrels of crude oil.

Mr Said said yesterday that talks with the ship's owners were continuing and that the crew was being treated well. Two British crew members have backed up the claim. "Everything is OK, we've got no mistreatment or anything, we're being treated quite well," Peter French, the chief engineer on the Sirius Star, told ITV News television by telephone. The second officer James Grady said the 25-strong crew were not being allowed on deck. But while he said their captors were heavily armed, he said they appeared "quite relaxed" and had not hurt the hostages.

The pirates have been in the world's spotlight since hijacking the Sirius Star. The international community has been rushing naval ships to the region in a bid to combat piracy, vowing tough action against a surge in attacks which is threatening major disruptions in international trade. Somali pirates have carried out around 100 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since the start of this year. They still hold 17 ships and more than 250 crew.

Many experts have argued that the torrent of pirate attacks off the Somali coast can never be completely resolved unless the causes are not tackled. The Horn of Africa country has been plagued by relentless fighting involving myriad clans, Islamist groups as well as Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces. *AFP

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