The plot thickens

September 30, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, September 30 – Hijackers of the Ukrainian ship off the Coast of Somalia clashed on Monday night, killing three of their own, according to the Mombasa-based maritime group of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme.

The group’s official Andrew Mwangura told Capital News on Tuesday that a shoot-out had been reported following a clash between the pirates.
"Reports we have here indicate that a radical group disagreed with a moderate one on what they should do with the ship. The moderates wanted to back-peddle and free the ship while the radicals stood their ground, leading to a shoot-out,” he said.

"The pirates are paranoid, the situation is very tense in the ship. That is why we are asking the naval ships to pull back and pave the way for negotiations," he added.

U.S. navy ships are about two kilometres from the ship, keeping a close watch of the vessel whose capture has sparked off controversy over the destination of its military cargo and thrown an international spotlight on rampant piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping areas.

Pirates seized the MV Faina off the Somali coast last Thursday and have demanded Sh1.5 billion in ransom.

Mr Mwangura said he was in constant touch with some of the pirates’ relatives who are equally worried of their kin’s fate.

When Capital News contacted him for comment Tuesday morning, he said he feared speaking to local media following warnings by Coast Provincial Commissioner Earnest Munyi who was furious with his revelations that the shipment content destined for Southern Sudan, not Kenya as claimed by government officials.

“Definitely, we have hot news but the government has warned me against speaking to you people. The latest we have is that three of the pirates are dead after a shoot out,” he said.

Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua is holding onto his Sunday statement that the shipment of 33 At-72 assorted tanks and huge quantities of ammunitions, grenade launchers and firearms belong to Kenya contrary to claims by the pirates and US Naval Central Command that they were headed to Southern Sudan.

“We will not engage in answering the pirates who are international criminals on shipment of Kenyan tax payers,” a statement on his website states.

Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri issued a similar statement on Monday and even released some documents to prove ownership.

“This is our arsenal.  Let no one lie to you that they belong to any other country other than Kenya,” he said.

But even as the Kenyan government struggled to prove ownership of the cargo, AFP spoke to a spokesman for the pirates holding the Ukrainian freighter who maintained they ‘knew the real owners of the cargo’.

"We are confirming that these weapons do not belong to the government of Kenya but belong to Southern Sudan," the pirate told AFP via satellite telephone from the ship.
“But whoever is the weapons’ owner is not our problem, our problem is the 20 million dollars," he said, referring to their demands for ransom.


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