Lavrov Calls for Pirate Fight

APSomali pirates in small boats sailing beside the hijacked Faina last week.
Russia will work with the United States and European Union to fight piracy off the African coast and wants naval forces gathering in the area to coordinate their efforts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.

Lavrov's comments signal that momentum is growing for coordinated international action to back up the sharp response after the stunning seizure late last month of a Ukrainian ship with a cargo of 33 Soviet-built tanks and a crew that includes two Russians.

"Russia aims to prevent pirates from causing mayhem," Lavrov said.

He said nations with naval vessels in the area, which include the United States, should work together against piracy.

"It would be useful to coordinate the naval forces that are deployed," Lavrov said, RIA-Novosti reported. "It seems everything is leading to this."

A Russian warship with commandos aboard is headed to the waters off Somalia, where pirates are holding the MV Faina. The Navy said the frigate Neustrashimy is carrying marines and special forces but has also sought to play down talk of the use of force to free the Faina's crew.

The United States and some of its allies already have 10 warships in the area in the Gulf of Aden, located north of Somalia on Africa's eastern elbow and between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. The Gulf of Aden is crossed by some 20,000 ships each year.

Lavrov said Russia, "like the U.S. and EU," will act on the basis of United Nations resolutions calling for international action against piracy.

A resolution adopted by the Security Council in May called on states and regional organizations "to take action to protect shipping involved with the transportation and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia." In early June, a different Security Council resolution authorized countries, for a period of six months, to enter Somalia's territorial waters and use "all necessary means" to stop piracy.

France's defense minister said last week that eight EU countries have volunteered to take part in an anti-piracy operation off Somalia that could get a formal go-ahead next month.

The EU patrols -- which will at first involve only three frigates -- will be modeled on the successes of another operation designed to protect World Food Program convoys destined for Somalia, a mostly lawless state where warlords and Islamic militias have replaced government control in many regions. French officials note that none of the 27 relief deliveries was hit by pirates.

Meanwhile, pirates holding the Faina gave no indication that they planned to surrender over the weekend as six U.S. warships circled the vessel with clearance from the Somali government to attack it.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said via satellite telephone that the pirates were prepared to defend the ship and would not take less than their stated ransom of $20 million.

On Friday, activists condemned Kenya's arrest of a Kenyan maritime official who had been the first to tip off media that the weapons aboard the ship were heading to southern Sudan. His account was later confirmed by the U.S. Navy and Western intelligence sources.

The allegation is highly embarrassing to Kenya, which brokered Sudan's north-south peace deal in 2005.