for National Geographic News
Somali pirates threatened Friday to blow up the arms-laded Ukrainian ship they are holding for a multimillion-dollar ransom if their demands are not met within three days.
"We held a consultative meeting for more than three hours today and decided to blow up the ship and its cargo—us included—if the ship owners did not meet our ransom demand," pirate spokesperson Sugule Ali Omar told the Associated Press.
The incendiary threat is just the latest salvo in a years-long Somalian piracy crisis that is driving up the cost of international shipping and cutting off the flow of food aid to the millions of Somalis who rely on it.
"We Decided to Capture It"
The current high-stakes, highly publicized ordeal began as business as usual on September 25.
To Somalian pirates, the M.V. Faina was an easy target.
As big as a fortress and not much faster, the vessel would fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom from a faraway shipping company, the pirates figured.
It was a surprise when they popped open the cargo hold and found 33 battle tanks and crates of small arms and ammunition, all bound for Kenya from Ukraine. The pirates asked for U.S. $35 million—a price they have since lowered.
"We saw a big ship, so we decided to capture it. And later we discovered that it was carrying tanks," Ali told National Geographic News by satellite phone from the deck of the hijacked ship.
"That made us happy, because we got a chance to demand more money," he said.
"No Time for Their PR Spin"
Piracy has made the shipping route through the Gulf of Aden, along Somalia's northern coast, one of the world's most dangerous. The route runs from the Arabian Sea through the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea and on to Egypt's Suez Canal, which empties out into the Mediterranean Sea (see map).
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