Russia dispatched a warship to Somalia today, a navy spokesman said, after a cargo ship carrying tanks and Russian citizens was seized by Somali pirates. The frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless) was ordered to waters off Somalia in response to "the rise in pirate attacks, including against Russian citizens", said the spokesman, Igor Dygalo. "Russia's navy will send ships for temporary missions to areas made dangerous because of maritime piracy to protect Russian citizens and guarantee the safety of shipping," Mr Dygalo said.
The Fearless is in service with the Baltic Fleet in northern Russia and originally left port on Wednesday "to guarantee a naval presence in several areas", Mr Dygalo said. The ship is equipped for a crew of around 200 and is armed with torpedoes, missiles, guns and mines. The ship will stay near Somalia "for more than two months in order to guarantee the safety of Russian ships," the RIA Novosti news agency quoted the commander of the Baltic Fleet, Viktor Mardusin, as saying.
The hijacked vessel, the latest in a string of hijackings in the water near Somalia, the Faina, was a Ukrainian cargo ship on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, officials said. Ukraine's foreign ministry said there were 17 Ukrainian nationals, three Russians and one Latvian aboard the Belize-flagged vessel. The ship's cargo includes 30 Soviet-designed T-72 battle tanks that were built in Russia and Ukraine, Russian media reported.
Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized off Somalia's 3,700-km coastline in recent years, despite the presence of Western navies deployed in the region to fight terrorism. The pirates travel in speedboats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. They sometimes hold ships for weeks until ransoms are paid by governments or owners. *AFP and AP