Islamist extremists prepared last night to unload rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns from a Ukrainian freighter seized by Somali pirates even as foreign warships surrounded the vessel.
A US destroyer and submarine from an international taskforce set up to patrol the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean and two European-flagged ships were reported to be tracking the freighter that had anchored off the southern Somali coast.
The ship's captain contacted media outlets by satellite phone to say that one of his crew had died during the hostage drama.
The pirates were demanding a $20 million (£10.8 million) ransom for the release of the MV Faina, its 20 surviving crew and cargo of weapons, which include 33 Russian tanks. It was seized on Thursday as it neared the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
“The Islamists have sent pick-ups from Mogadishu to go and collect the gear,” said an analyst with a network of Somali informers. “There's not much they can do with the tanks — they can't get them off — but the rest of the weapons they are trying to move ashore.”