MOGADISHU, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Some crew members of a Ukrainian ship hijacked off Somalia with 33 tanks on board have fallen sick, a local businessman said.
The MV Faina, the highest-profile of a dozen ships being held off Somalia, was captured in September with its 20-man crew and a cargo of Soviet-era T-72 tanks plus other weapons.
The pirates want $5 million to release the boat, and its crew of mainly Russians and Ukrainians. One sick crew member died in the early days of the hijacking.
"Seven of the MV Faina's crew have become sick and we are planning to take Somali doctors to treat these crew on the ship," businessman Osman Farah, who has dealings with the pirates, told Reuters on Saturday.
"Rashes have appeared on their bodies, and they are suffering diarrhoea. Some have high blood pressure. We do not exactly know the disease, but we think the chemicals of the weapons on the ship have affected them," he said.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of Kenyan-based regional maritime group the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said he too had heard some of the crew were sick.
"I think it's just fatigue after being there so long," he said. "Normally, the pirates allow crews to get some breaks, like playing football or doing some fishing. But with such important military equipment on board, security is very tight." (Reporting by Abdi Guled, Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan)