The owners of the Faina, a Ukrainian ship captured by Somali pirates in September, have protested against the role of an American businesswoman in negotiations to free the ship, a spokesman said, RIA Novosti reported.

U.S. media reported late last month that Michele Lynn Ballarin, a businesswoman from Virginia with links to U.S. intelligence and the military, as well as to Somali clan leaders, had stepped in to negotiate with the pirates for the release of the Faina, as well as the Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star.

Mikhail Voitenko, the editor of Sovfracht Maritime Bulletin who is acting as a spokesman for the owners, said: "She has to understand that offering criminals a huge amount of money, which by the way she doesn't have, she is only giving them false hope, and is actually ruining the results of the negotiations that the ship owners have already achieved."

A colleague of Ballarin told the news channel ABC last month that the businesswoman has been in Somalia for five years, and has built a network of clan and sub-clan members in the region

The colleague said Ballarin, who goes by the name of Amira (Arabic for princess) in Somalia, aims to turn Somalia from a failed state into a functioning one.

The Faina, carrying 33 T-72 tanks and other heavy weaponry, was seized by Somali pirates on September 25. The pirates initially demanded a $35 million ransom, but recent information suggests the figure has fallen to $3.5 million.

The crew is made up of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian.

Ballarin earlier told "My goal is to unwind all 17 ships and all 450 people they've been holding."

Voitenko said that under international law the ship owners hold exclusive responsibility for the crew and the ship, and that neither the Ukrainian government nor any third party will take a role in negotiations.

"The government has never held talks with the pirates and they will not under any circumstances."

"Neither Amira, nor anyone else for that matter, has received any power of attorney to hold negotiations with the pirates, let alone to promise to pay an unrealistic ransom. Therefore, Amira's actions in regard to the crew members being held by the pirates can only be qualified as opportunism," Voitenko said.


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