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Somali Pirates Demand "Honest" Negotiations

Somali pirates demanding 25 million dollars for a Saudi super-tanker called on Wednesday for stepped up and "honest" talks to free the vessel ahead of the November 30 ransom deadline

Somali pirates demanding 25 million dollars for a Saudi super-tanker called on Wednesday for stepped up and "honest" talks to free the vessel ahead of the November 30 ransom deadline.

Mohammed Said, the leader of the group which 11 days ago captured the Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of crude oil, told AFP that protracted talks were not helping them, the ship's owners or the crew.

"We are urging the owners of the Saudi tanker to have an honest dialogue in order to end the crisis," he said.

"We need them (vessel's owners) to call their captain and our members on the Sirius Star so we can speed up the negotiations.

"Too much delay is not good for us and for the owners of the tanker and the crew as well. We are not threatening them but we are urging them to be honest."

The 330-metre oil carrier is the biggest vessel ever seized by pirates, sparking international alarm and prompting foreign navies to rush to the region to curb the rising piracy.

But the clampdown saw a Thai fishing boat mistakenly sunk last week by the Indian navy which believed the vessel was a Somali pirate "mother ship" used by the sea bandits to launch attacks, a maritime watchdog said.

One Thai crew member died and 14 others were still missing after the November 18 accident in the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reporting centre.

But an Indian Navy spokesman Nirad Sinha said the Thai boat was hostile.

"The vessel was similar in description to what was mentioned in various piracy bulletins," Sinha told AFP.

"The Indian navy ship asked them to stop for investigation on repeated calls. The vessel responded by saying it would blow up the Indian ship.... Pirates were seen roaming on the deck with rocket-propelled grenade launchers."

The owners of the downed boat, Thai-based Sirichai Fisheries, confirmed that the deep sea trawler Ekawatnava 5 had been destroyed, and said the crew were tied up when it came under fire from the INS Tabar.

"The ship was hijacked early in the day and was sunk in the evening," its managing director Wicharn Sirchaiekawat told AFP in Bangkok.

Somali pirates have carried out around 100 attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since the start of this year. They still hold 17 ships and more than 250 crew.

Many experts have argued that the torrent of pirate attacks off the Somali coast can never be completely resolved unless the causes are tackled.

The Horn of Africa country has been plagued with relentless fighting among myriad clans, Islamist groups as well as Ethiopian troops and Somali government forces.

On Tuesday, Said told AFP that talks with the owners of the Sirius Star were continuing and that the crew was being treated well.

Two British crew members have backed up the claim.

"Everything is OK, we've got no mistreatment or anything, we're being treated quite well," Peter French, the chief engineer on the Sirius Star, told ITV News television by telephone.

Second officer James Grady said the 25 crew members were not being allowed on deck. But while he said their captors were heavily armed, he added that they appeared "quite relaxed" and had not hurt the hostages.

The pirates have been in the world's spotlight since hijacking the Sirius Star.

Some shipping companies have re-routed some of their fleets to the Cape of Good Hope, while private security outfits have offered their services to combat the new scourge.

A number of oil-rich Gulf states met in Oman Tuesday vowing to work with key naval powers to win the battle against pirates.

Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal denounced piracy as "a demon that we must eradicate in the same way as terrorism."