MV Faina: Freed At Last … But Whose Arsenal Is It?

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The deadly arsenal — 33 T-72 Russian battle tanks, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and anti-aircraft guns — held by Somali pirates is free at last, and the penultimate question is: Whose cargo is it?

A handout photo provided by the US Navy shows the Belize-flagged Ukrainian cargo MV Faina off Somalia's Indian Ocean coast as seen from a US Navy guided-missile cruiser.

Last night, the Ukrainian ship MV Faina was expected to dock at the port of Mombasa, as queries heightened over who paid the $3.2 million ransom.

When the ship was hijacked five months ago, there was an international storm over who the owner of the deadly arsenal was, with the US insisting the cache was headed to Southern Sudan. Yesterday, the Government — that kept insisting that the cargo was hers — remained uncharacteristically economical with information.

And in a dramatic move, the $3.2 million ransom was flown from Wilson Airport, Nairobi, by a chopper and parachuted down the Somalia coast. The plane, according to sources who spoke to the Associated Press, had originated in South Africa.

Focus turns on the ship’s next destination and who claims the cargo.

By 4pm yesterday, all the pirates, more than 100, had left the ship.

Kenya Army Spokesman Bogita Ongeri declined to comment, while Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua said: "Pirates are still getting off... the ship is not moving. It’s still in hostile waters ... Maybe it will move tomorrow."

Ransom paid

And asked whether the cargo is destined for Nairobi, Dr Mutua said he would issue a comprehensive report later.

A man involved in negotiations to secure the release of the ship told the AP that a chopper carrying the ransom left Nairobi on Wednesday afternoon and dropped on the Faina.

A spokesman for the owners of the MV Faina said ransom was paid to the pirates and the ship freed.

A statement from the office of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko did not refer to a ransom, but said the ship was freed as a result of an operation involving intelligence agents from his country.

The US Navy said it appeared the ransom was dropped on Wednesday.

"We have all indications that ransom was paid regarding MV Faina," Lt Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, told AP.

The ship is loaded with military hardware and there had been fears the arms would fall into the hands of al-Qaeda-backed Somali insurgents.

The pirates seized the MV Faina on September 25, last year, and the cargo consisted of 33 T-72 tanks, rocket launchers and small arms.

It has since been moored off Haradhere, along with a number of other vessels seized by the pirates.

Kenya said the cargo belonged to it but there were claims that the manifest suggested it was destined for South Sudan. Once the ship is underway, focus is likely to shift to the cargo and its final destination.

Presidential spokeswoman Irina Vannikova told Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency that "the ship is now under the guard of forces of the US Navy and is preparing to head for the Kenyan port of Mombasa".

One of the pirates told AP by satellite telephone that some of the pirates remained on board.

"We are not holding it (the ship) now anymore," said Aden Abdi Omar, one of those who left the ship. "But our men should disembark first for it to move to wherever it wants."

Dozens of pirates

Omar said two boats had been sent to collect more than two dozen other pirates who were on board.

By yesterday 4pm, according to sources, all the more than 100 pirates had left the ship.

Mr Mikhail Voitenko, a spokesman for the ship’s owner, said the pirates had received the ransom on Wednesday. The pirates had originally demanded $20 million.

The MV Faina was seized last September 24 with its 20-man crew.

East African Seafarers Assistance Programme Co-ordinator Andrew Mwangura, who used to give updates to local media, declined to comment yesterday.

Coast PPO King’ori Mwangi declined to comment and referred The Standard to the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA).

KMA Director-General Nancy Karigithu said she was not in a position to say anything since she had not been informed about the development.

Somali pirates have so far captured three ships in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes. The zone is a global piracy hotspot and 111 ships were attacked, with 42 seized last year.

Source: The Standard Online

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