15 October 2008 21:44 [Source: ICIS news]
HOUSTON (ICIS news)--Warships from NATO sailed into the Suez Canal on Wednesday, heading to Somalia to protect shipping from pirates.
A flotilla of seven NATO ships steamed toward the Gulf of Aden, where pirates have hijacked more than 30 ships this year and made the waters off Somalia the world's most dangerous, according to a Reuters report.
Two destroyers, including one from the US, four frigates and one auxiliary ship from six NATO states were in the flotilla, Reuters said.
The NATO force will coordinate with a US-led force already operating in the area and a force from the European Union due to start operations in December.
Pressure has been mounting for international action against the pirate menace since the seizure on 25 September of a Ukrainian cargo ship, the MV Faina, loaded with 33 T-72 tanks and other weaponry.
Pirates reportedly demanded a ransom of $35m (€26m) but have since come down to $8m, the International Herald Tribune reported.
Somali pirates freed on 9 October a chemical tanker, the M/T Irene, and its entire crew, reportedly for a ransom of $1.6m, according to media reports.
Irene was the second chemical tanker hijacked by pirates in recent months.
Last week the UN Security Council called for a joint naval operation against the pirates, who have reaped millions in ransoms and pushed up insurance costs.
This year alone, the pirates have so far collected ransoms of $18m-30m, Reuters said.
Pirates still hold 11 ships and more than 200 crewmen hostage, according to the Malaysia-based piracy reporting centre of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).
The IMB said on Wednesday a bulk carrier had been attacked and hijacked by the pirates, who are said to be operating in three long white Russian-made trawlers.
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