Somali Pirates Deny Shootout Report

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Pirates holding a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks and weapons claimed Tuesday that they were celebrating the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr despite being surrounded by U.S. warships and helicopters. They also denied a report of a shootout aboard the seized ship.

No solution to their $20 million ransom demand for the cargo ship Faina was yet in sight.

"We are happy on the ship, and we are celebrating Eid," pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said by satellite phone.

Ali did not say whether the ship's crew would be included in the feast that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. One of the 21 crew members has died of an apparent heart attack.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said there was an unconfirmed report that three Somali pirates were killed Monday night in a dispute over whether to surrender, but he said he had not spoken to any witnesses.

But the pirate spokesman insisted that was not true.

"We didn't dispute over a single thing, let alone have a shootout," Ali said.

There was no way to independently verify either account. The U.S. 5th Fleet also said it had no new information to report Tuesday on the six-day standoff.

Pirates hijacked the Faina and its cargo of 33 Soviet-designed tanks and weapons Thursday while the ship was passing through the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, en route to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

U.S. Navy officials said they had allowed the pirates to resupply the ship with food and water but not to unload any of its military cargo, which included T-72 tanks, ammunition and heavy weapons that U.S. military officials have said included rocket launchers.