Ethiopia very concerned over level of piracy

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on Saturday he was concerned by the seizure of a Ukrainian ship off Somalia carrying military supplies and feared they would be used to further destabilize the region.

Speaking before a meeting in New York with
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Zenawi said piracy off the coast of Somalia was a "very hard problem" and he hoped the international community would respond.

"We are very concerned about the level of piracy on the seas. It is related to the instability in Somalia," he told reporters.

Somali pirates have demanded a $35-million ransom for the Ukrainian ship they had seized which was carrying 33 tanks, grenade launchers, ammunition and other military supplies destined for Kenya.

"They could be used to destabilize the region and the whole situation on the high seas is a matter of great concern for all of us," Zenawi said.

"We very much hope the international community will respond."

Pirates have captured more than 30 vessels off Somalia this year, making its waters the most dangerous in the world and threatening a major international shipping lane between Europe and Asia. The gangs seek, and often receive, large ransoms.

An Islamist insurgence in the south of Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for 17 years, has made it difficult for the struggling interim government to police the waters. Russia said on Friday it was sending a warship to the region to protect Russian ships and citizens.