French capture 9 pirates but tension mounts over captured ‘tank’ ship

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Tensions heated up on the high seas, as the French Navy captured nine pirates near the Gulf of Aden and a Somali pirate warned Thursday that the crew of a hijacked Ukrainian arms ship would be killed if NATO forces attacked, according to a report by Associated Press.

The French Navy intercepted the pirates in two small boats about 115 miles (185 kilometers) from the nearest coast, finding assault rifles, grenade-launchers, grappling hooks and ladders onboard.

The nine were handed over Thursday to Somali officials, and French officials received assurances the prisoners would be treated according to international conventions.

“We wanted to send a very clear message to the pirates that the days of their flourishing and unpunished business are over,” Gen. Christian Baptiste, a French Defense Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone.

Somali pirate Sugule Ali, a spokesman for those holding a Ukrainian arms ship, vowed Thursday to fight back if attacked, regardless of the impending arrival of a flotilla of NATO warships.

“Either we get the money or hold onto the ship. And if attacked, we will fight back to the bitter end,” Ali told AP via satellite telephone.

“The important thing, though, is if we die they will die too,” he added, referring to the 9.019 dwt Belize-registered ro-ro Faina’s 20-man 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. The ship is now anchored off Somalia’s coast near the central town of Hobyo.

US warships have surrounded the Faina for weeks, making sure its heavy weapons don’t fall into the hands of insurgent groups linked to al-Qaida. Ali said food and water are running low on the Faina but the pirates were sharing what they had with the crew.