(AP Photo/U.S. Navy/ho)
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- A Ukrainian ship seized off Somalia by pirates had 33 Russian T-72 tanks in its cargo, officials said Friday.
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Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov told reporters that the cargo on the ship, the Faina, also included "a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts," according to Larisa Mudrak, a spokeswoman for President Viktor Yushchenko.
It was not immediately known where the tanks were being shipped to, although the ITAR-Tass news agency said they had been sold to Kenya. Yekhanurov also said the tanks had been sold "in accordance with international law," according to Mudrak.
Ukrainian officials and an anti-piracy watchdog said earlier Friday that pirates seized the Ukrainian vessel off eastern Somalia on Thursday.
Russia said Friday it has sent a patrol ship to Somalia, but a navy statement did not specifically mention the seizure of the Ukrainian ship.
The navy commander ordered a patrol ship from Russia's Baltic Sea fleet to the area, navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said in a statement.
The hijacking brings the number of attacks off Somalia to 61 this year, and pirates are now holding 14 ships and more than 300 crew members, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center based in Malaysia.
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Dygalo said Russia's navy would periodically send ships to piracy-prone areas to protect Russian citizens and Russian ships. He said the patrol ship had left the Russian port of Baltiisk on Wednesday "with the aim of providing for a naval presence in a number of oceans and sea regions."
Dygalo's statement did not specifically mention the seizure of the Ukrainian ship, which occurred a day later. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
Russia has been seeking to revive its navy in the wake of the Soviet collapse and expand its global presence. A naval squadron is on its way to Venezuela for joint exercises.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, meanwhile, ordered unspecified measures to secure the release of the crew. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said it had no information on the ship's cargo.