Russian warship heads for Somalia coast to fight sea pirates

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Moscow, Oct 21 (UNI) The Neustrashimy missile frigate belonging to the Russian Baltic Fleet will today pass through the Suez Canal on its way to the Somalia coast to join an international naval group fighting sea piracy in the region.

''The warship's task is to escort and protect Russian vessels or ships with Russian crewmembers on board from pirate attacks off the Somali coast,'' an anonymous senior level official of the Russian Navy told RIA Novosti news agency.

The missile frigate left the main naval base in Russia's Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad in late September and participated in joint exercises with a Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean.

The warship's armament includes SS-N-25 Switchblade anti-ship missiles, SA-N-9 Gauntlet SAM, a 100-mm gun, torpedoes and depth charges. The frigate also carries a Ka-27 ASW helicopter.

Earlier this month, Somali Ambassador to Russia Mohamed Handule said Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, had given permission for Russia's military to tackle pirates both off Somalia's coast and on land.

Pirates are increasingly active in the waters off Somalia, which has no effective government and no navy to police its coastline.

Somali pirates have been causing havoc in the Arabian Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, taking millions in ransoms, hiking insurance costs and threatening humanitarian supplies.

They have hijacked more than 30 ships so far this year and received ransoms totaling 18 million dollars to 30 million dollars, making the waters off Somalia the world's most dangerous.

They recently hijacked a Ukrainian ship, the MV Faina, carrying at least 33 T-72 tanks and other heavy weaponry.

Six US warships are currently in the area around the Faina and are monitoring the situation.

UNI XC SKB SB HT1818

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