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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Navy Surrounds Hijacked Ship

APSomali pirates in small boats docking alongside the hijacked Faina in a picture released by the U.S. Navy on Sunday.
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The U.S. Navy sent more warships Monday to surround a hijacked ship loaded with Russian-made tanks and said that the cargo had been destined for unknown buyers in Sudan.

Additional U.S. destroyers and cruisers have been deployed within 16 kilometers of the Ukrainian vessel being held by Somali pirates because of "great concern" over the possibility of the tanks and other weapons aboard the ship falling "into the wrong hands," said Navy Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a deputy spokesman for the 5th Fleet.

U.S. helicopters are flying over the ship in the Indian Ocean, Christensen said. Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said Sunday that "planes" had been flying overhead. Ali said he was speaking from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone -- and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship's captain, who also spoke with the AP.

Ali said his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release the ship and its cargo.

Christensen said the shipment had been headed to Sudan and not to Kenya, which had been claiming to be the arms' destination. "We are aware that the actual cargo was intended for Sudan, not Kenya," Christensen said.

The 5th Fleet said the ship was headed for the Kenyan port of Mombassa, but that "additional reports state the cargo was intended for Sudan."

Christensen did not specify whether the arms were intended for the Khartoum-based government, or southern Sudan, which was granted a degree of autonomy under a 2005 peace deal that also guaranteed the oil-rich region a referendum on full independence in 2011.

The UN has imposed an arms embargo on weapons headed to Sudan's Darfur conflict zone. The ban does not cover other weapons sales to the governments in Khartoum or southern Sudan.

The shipment was destined for southern Sudan -- not Darfur -- and did not violate the embargo, said a Western diplomat in Nairobi, Kenya, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to speak to the press.

"We will maintain a vigilant watch over the ship and remain on station while negotiations take place," said Rear Admiral Kendall Card, commander of the task force monitoring the ship. "Our goal is to ensure the safety of the crew, to not allow off-loading of dangerous cargo and to make certain Faina can return to legitimate shipping."

Andrew Mwangura, who is monitoring the saga, said Monday that one crewmember, Vladimir Kolobkov, a Russian citizen, had died on board because of sickness since the hijack.