NAIROBI, October 8 – The hijacking of the Ukrainian vessel MV Faina off the Coast of Somalia is the latest in a series of hijackings by pirates, making the Somali waters the most dangerous in the Indian Ocean.
Maritime figures place the number of ships hijacked in Somali waters since January at 30, the highest reported in such short period.
This latest capture of the Belize-flagged freighter, which was carrying an assortment of high power arms to Kenya was hijacked on September 25 and has since remained in the control of over 100 pirates who are demanding Sh1.4 million in ransom.
The world’s super powers led by the United States of America (USA) and Russia have been keeping watch of the ship to ensure that the pirates did not offload its deadly cargo.
A heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyer USS Howard DDG 83 has been patrolling at close vicinity of the pirated ship that is being moored off the Somali coast near Hobyo.
Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy that has been moving towards the region is yet to make visual contact with pirated ship.
There have been fears the armaments aboard MV Faina may end up in the hands of Islamic militants linked to the dreaded al-Qaeda terror network or Islamic fighters who are opposed to the Somali Transitional Government.
On board the Belize-flagged Faina is a crew consisting of 17 Ukrainians, 3 Russians and a Latvian.
The ship’s captain Vladimir Kolobkov has since died of a heart attack, according to the pirates’ spokesman Ali Sugule who last week denied reports that three of his members had been killed after a gun battle following a disagreement.
On Tuesday, Somalia Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Ahmed Jama revealed that there were ‘many more’ ships held hostage at the Coast of Somalia.
“It is not only the Faina, there are many more other ships being detained by these criminals. Some of them have been held for months now as the pirates demand ransom,” he told a news conference at the Somalia Embassy in Nairobi.
The Foreign Minister’s admission that the world was dealing with ‘very dangerous’ people compounds the situation that Somalia waters are perhaps the most volatile world over.
He said Somalia was at the mercies of the international community, particularly the United Nations (UN) Security Council which it hopes will conclusively tackle the piracy menace in his country.
“The Transitional National Government of Somalia has no capacity to deal with the piracy problem. We are not able at all to deal with these people, nations with capacity should help us tackle this problem,” he said.
He said Resolution 1816 of the UN Security council passed on June 2 empowers nations with capacity to intervene and find what he termed ‘a lasting solution to piracy’.
Pirates have been fleecing money in ransom payments from ship owners and humanitarian organisations whose freighters frequent the coast of Somalia to either deliver aid in the war-torn nation or just cruising through the Coastline.
“It is a serious matter because at least 60 attacks have been struck this year alone and 30 ships detained by these pirates,” a maritime official said, requesting to remain anonymous.
In 2005 alone, 48 vessels were attacked and 35 hijacked.
Many of those seized were oil tankers, general cargo carriers and fishing freighters which were either headed to Somalia or en-route to other nations.
The International Maritime Bureau said the risk posed by the pirates has forced some of the vessels that operated on the Somalia coastline off business for fear of attacks.
Dangerous as it is, the Somalia’s 2000-Kilometre coastline remains the most important route for global sea trade.
“Unless this problem is sorted out, piracy will remain a challenge to sea trade. The situation is compounded by illegal deep-sea fishing,” a Maritime official said and urged the international community to establish a permanent monitoring programme in the sea.
The capture of this latest ship has been widely publicised because of her contents and the controversy surrounding the actual destination of the military equipment on board.
With controversy emerging from all quarters on the exact destination of the shipment, the Kenyan government has stood its ground to claim ownership, denouncing reports that the arms were en-route to Southern Sudan which has a UN arms embargo.
As if to emphasise on its stand, the police even arrested and prosecuted a maritime official who blew the whistle on the hijacked ship, its contents and destination.
Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based Seafarers Association was charged on October 3 with publishing an alarming report and other charges of being in possession of narcotic drugs.
He denied the charges and was remanded until October 7th when he was released on a Sh200, 000 bail.
Mwangura had been quoted by local and international media, saying that the shipment was the property of Southern Sudan and even revealed it was the third such freighter to dock at the Kenyan Coast lately.
“This is not Kenyan cargo, it was headed for Southern Sudan. That is the information we are receiving,” he told Capital News from Mombasa before he was arrested and charged.
Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua termed the matter as ‘shocking’ and maintained the cargo was purchased by the taxpayer’s money.
“We do not need to keep speculating about cargo that has been purchased by the Kenyan government and paid for by he tax payers,” he said.
Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri even released documents to prove owner of the cargo.
“Let it be known that this is our arsenal, I do not know where you (media) are getting this other reports from,” Ongeri said.