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Seized tanks: Navy finally put to sea

NAIROBI, October 8 – Kenya announced on Wednesday it was finally dispatching its navy to join other forces that have laid siege in Somali waters following a two-week standoff with pirates who seized a controversial cache of military weapons.

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said the matter required urgent intervention since it was extremely serious and warranted Kenya’s invocation of UN Security Council resolution 1816 which authorises powers cooperating with the transitional government of Somalia to use ‘all necessary means’ to repress acts of piracy.

“There is no effort that will be spared in liberating the hijacked ship. Force will have to be used.  We will be sending our Navy to join forces with other security personnel already at sea to recover our arms as soon as possible,” Mr Wetangula told reporters after meeting his Somalia counterpart Ali Jama.

He was emphatic on the need to use ‘extreme force’ to recover the hijacked ship that has been in the hands of Somali pirates since September 25.  The buccaneers are demanding some Sh1.5 billion to release the arms.

“There is no need to engage in negotiations with these criminals. They will adopt a culture of impunity,” he said and warned against paying any form of ransom to the pirates.

Kenya also shrugged off lingering speculation on the identity of the final recipient of the cargo of tanks, surface-to-air systems and other weapons pirates seized on the MV Faina that is moored off the port of Hobyo, north of Mogadishu.

Many industry experts and intelligence sources have suggested the arms were bound for Southern Sudan as suggested by a cargo manifest scanned and posted on the British Broadcasting Corporation website on Tuesday.

The article prominently displayed the contract number on the documents, which bore the acronym GOSS, which is commonly used to refer the government of Southern Sudan.

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But the Kenyan government on Wednesday argued that the document, although authentic, had been misinterpreted.

"This is our cargo, it is purely Kenyan. The initials were misinterpreted to mean government of South Sudan.  GOSS is an acronym used by the Department of Defence to mean General Ordinance and Security Supplies,” Mr Wetangula said.

He added: “The BBC is misinterpreting these acronyms to mislead people; I have been advised that these are our cargo. We do not engage in brokerage business on military arms,” he said emphatically.

The Ukrainian state-owned arms exporter Ukrspetsexport also denied the BBC’s theory, giving the same explanation.

The pirates have been demanding $20 million to release the ship and its 21 crew although sources close to the hijackers say the amount may have been reduced after several days of talks.

Kenya however refused to enter the negotiations, which are believed to involve the pirates and the ship owners, and instead advocated muscle over diplomacy in a bid not to encourage long-term piracy.

“They should not be paid ransom at all," Wetangula asserted.

A spokesman for the pirates told the AFP news agency from the ship on Tuesday that he hoped a deal would be reached on the amount of the ransom and its mode of payment by Wednesday.

In New York, the UN’s Security Council unanimously approved another resolution urging states to deploy more air and naval forces to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.

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France’s UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, which co-drafted the text, said the resolution "states very clearly that you can use force against the pirates."

At least 32 foreign ships have been attacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden this year, more than twice the figure for 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

Around 30 percent of the world’s oil transits through the Gulf of Aden, and piracy is threatening to divert maritime trade from the Suez Canal to longer and more costly routes.

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