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Somali Pirates in Ransom Negotiations

A man presented on Al-Jazeera television as one of the gang who seized the ship said a cash sum would be exchanged for its return

A man presented on Al-Jazeera television as one of the gang who seized the ship said a cash sum would be exchanged for its return.

"Negotiators are located on board the ship and on land. Once they have agreed on the ransom, it will be taken in cash to the oil tanker," said the man identified as Farah Abd Jameh. He did not indicate the amount to be paid.

"We assure the safety of the ship that carries the ransom. We will mechanically count the money and we have machines that can detect fake money," he said.

Salah B. Ka'aki, president of Dubai-based Vela International Marine which operates the Sirius Star and is owned by Saudi Arabia's state oil company, said its priority was the safety of the ship's crew of 25. He did not directly respond to the ransom demand.

The crew comprise two from Britain, two from Poland, a Croatian, a Saudi and 19 from the Philippines. They are believed to be unharmed.

"Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew," said Mr Ka'aki.

"We are in communication with their families and are working toward their safe and speedy return.''

The company has set up an incident room to co-ordinate the response to the incident and it is being run by a British merchant sailor, Captain John Sparkhall.

Initial contact has been made with the pirates who are expected to demand a substantial ransom of several million pounds.

While Saudi officials have demanded that the pirates are dealt with by military force, commanders of the task force in the region gave no hint of possible action, preferrign to retain the initiative.

Shipping owners often pay substantial ransoms to free their crew, cargo and ship when seized. But in a sign that Western government will not simply cave in to pressure to the maritime criminal gangs, the Royal Navy handed Kenyan authorities eight pirates captured last week when a British vessel prevented an attack on a Danish ship. They are due to face prosecution.

Crude oil prices jumped immediately after the hijacking emerged on Monday, but then fell back in relief as traders accepted that the hijacking would not cause much disruption to oil supplies.

The greatest knock on effect is likely to be in the cost of insurance, which had already soared eaerlier this year as the number of hijackings escalated.

But the attack on the Sirius Star could also spur shipping companies to strengthen security, introducing armed guards, or change routes to sail around the Cape of Good Hope rather through the Suez Canal.