Somali pirates 'had shoot-out on ship'

A US defence official says three are believed dead after a disagreement, but the pirates have denied the report.

A handout photo provided by the US Navy shows the Belize-flagged Ukrainian cargo MV Faina on September 29, 2008 off Somalia's Indian Ocean coast as seen from a US Navy guided-missile cruiser. The US Navy stood guard on September 30 around the ship carrying tanks and arms to stop them from falling into the wrong hands in lawless Somalia amid growing confusion over the cargo's destination. The ship was seized by Somali pirates on September 25 in the Indian Ocean on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.  The pirates have demanded 20 million US dollars to free the ship, its cargo and crew of 21 consisting of Ukrainians, Russians and Latvians.  AFP PHOTO / HO

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MOGADISHU // Disagreements between Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks and heavy weapons escalated into a shoot-out and three pirates are believed dead, a US defence official said today. The pirates have denied the report. The US destroyer USS Howard and several other American ships have surrounded the cargo ship Faina, which was hijacked on Thursday and is now anchored off the lawless coast of Somalia.

The pirates have demanded a ransom of US$20 million (Dh73m) and the US Navy cordon aims to prevent them from taking any of the weapons ashore. The official in Washington who reported the shoot-out spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record. He refused to elaborate. But the pirate spokesman insisted the report was not true. "We didn't dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shoot-out," the pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said by satellite telephone today.

He said the Somali pirates were celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al Fitr despite being surrounded by American warships and helicopters. "We are happy on the ship and we are celebrating Eid," Mr Ali said. "Nothing has changed." Earlier today, Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program cited an unconfirmed report saying three Somali pirates were killed last night in a dispute over whether to surrender.

Mr Mwangura said, however, the report was third-hand and he had not spoken to any witnesses. *AP