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Russia sends warship to Somalia's coast

Russia has sent a warship to Somalia's coast, the navy said Friday after pirates seized a Ukrainian vessel whose crew includes Russians.

The navy's commander ordered a patrol ship from Russia's Baltic Sea fleet to the area, navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said in a statement.

Ukrainian officials and an anti-piracy watchdog said pirates seized a Ukrainian cargo vessel with 21 people aboard off eastern Somalia on Thursday. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said those aboard included three Russians.

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.

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. The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed source Thursday as saying the ship was loaded with about 30 T-72 tanks and spare parts for them.