MV Faina under close watch

February 6, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 6 – The Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Relations said on Friday that it wants the government to guarantee an open and transparent process in clearing the MV Faina once it docks at the port of Mombasa.

Committee chairman Adan Keynan said that this is the only way to clear the air on the controversy surrounding the cargo in the freighter, which international media say was freed on Thursday.

Keynan and other committee members told reporters in Nairobi that they had not ascertained if the cargo was destined for Kenya or Southern Sudan as suggested by some diplomats in the region.

“We are still carrying out the investigations and now that there are reports of the Faina being released, we hope to find the answers,” he said.

Kenya has laid claim to the military tanks and other Soviet-era weapons in the freighter, which some diplomats in the region said were destined for Southern Sudan.

“It is because of this controversy that we want the clearing process to be open and transparent,” Mr Keynan said.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced on Thursday that the Faina had been set free after the payment of more than $3 million in ransom.

It was not clear who had paid the ransom that was parachuted to the freighter, which has been in the pirates’ control for over four months with its crew of 20 seamen – a Latvian, two Russians and 17 Ukrainians.

"We have released MV Faina. There were only three boys remaining on board and they delayed the release for one hour, but now the ship is free," Sugule Ali, a spokesman for the pirates, told AFP by phone.

"The ship and the crew members are in good shape because our boys expended tremendous efforts to protect them. We fed them well."

Pirates in the town of Harardhere, off the coast of which the MV Faina had been held since its capture on September 25, said more than $3 million had been paid to them.

"The deal was 3.5 million dollars (2.7 million euros). The owners of the ship wanted to pay only one million but we resisted," said one pirate on condition of anonymity.

Sugule Ali confirmed that a ransom was paid but would not reveal the amount, describing it only as "not huge… something to cover our expenses."

Mr Keynan and other parliamentary committee members however, condemned the reported payment of ransom and warned that it was likely to encourage piracy in the region.

“Pirates must be dealt with. Pirates must not be rewarded because it encourages international criminals,” he said.

Fishermen and pirates in the Harardhere area told AFP they had spotted navy ships from an international anti-piracy coalition moving towards the freed Ukrainian vessel.

The Ukrainian presidency also confirmed the ship’s release in a statement and said the vessel had resumed its journey to its initial destination, Mombasa, although sources close to the pirates believe that the Faina does not currently have enough fuel.

"On February 4, the ship was freed after a very difficult operation carried out by the Ukrainian special services in cooperation with foreign special services," the office of President Yushchenko said.

The boat’s crew, apart from the captain who apparently died of natural causes two days after the ship was seized in the Indian Ocean, were said to be in good health.

"All are feeling well and are able to walk, they are moving freely on the boat," said Ukrainian mediator Nina Karpatchova.

It was unclear what part the special services were supposed to have played but according to sources close to the pirates the ransom money was flown from Nairobi and dropped to the pirates by parachute at 1200 GMT on Wednesday.

The sources said the air-dropped capsule contained $3.2 million.

"Somali pirates are very quick at counting money, they have equipment. Three million dollars is a matter of 15 minutes, but there can be disagreements between them," said one source close to the case, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the final stages of the ransom negotiations, no fewer than 50 pirates were on board the ship and fishermen, elders and other witnesses in Harardhere said that they saw the first groups return from the ship early Thursday.

Faina’s capture was one of the longest and most high-profile hijackings since Somali piracy surged in 2007.

Pirates had initially demanded 35 million dollars to release the ship but talks were slow to start with the Ukrainian ship owners, following threats of military action.

"We were fed up with the Faina," said Ahmed Mohamed Abdi, one of the pirates, shortly after receiving his share.

"There was a time we thought of releasing the ship without any payment on humanitarian grounds but we spent a lot of borrowed money on khat, cigarettes, coca cola, mineral water and food," he told AFP.

Controversy still surrounds the intended recipient of the MV Faina’s cargo, which includes 33 Soviet-era T-72 battle tanks and at least 14,000 rounds of different types of ammunition.

After the vessel’s seizure in September, Kenya claimed the weaponry was for its armed forces but several sources have since revealed that the cargo was intended for the government of South Sudan.

According to organizations monitoring sea piracy, Somali pirates hijacked at least 49 foreign vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean last year, raking in tens of millions of dollars in ransom money.


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