Ships Get Escort Off Somalia

A Russian frigate was escorting three ships off the coast of Somalia on Monday to protect them from pirates.

The guided-missile frigate Neustrashimy was escorting the Russian Sokol-3 vessel, the Danish-operated Caribbean Express and the Slot Markland ship under a Cayman Islands flag, Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said.

A multinational force, including U.S., British and German warships, is patrolling the waters, but the Russian frigate has operated mostly on its own.

Pirates have hijacked about 40 ships this year, including a Ukrainian freighter loaded with 33 battle tanks that was seized in September and a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100 million worth of crude that was captured Nov. 15.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman Vasyl Kyrylych said Monday that negotiations with Somali pirates holding the cargo ship MV Faina are nearly completed, Interfax reported.

Kyrylych would not give any details of the talks but said the Faina's 20-member crew was in satisfactory condition. The vessel's Russian captain died shortly after the hijacking.

A spokesman for the Faina's owner said Sunday that the Somali pirates have agreed on a ransom for the ship and it could be released within days.

Pirate attacks off Somalia have surged more than 75 percent this year, and the seizure of the Faina raised particular concern because of the tanks and weapons on board.