NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12 – Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula on Monday condemned the payment of ransom to pirates that led to the release of a Saudi super oil tanker and vowed that Kenya would not be drawn to do the same for the arms-laden Ukrainian cargo ship, MV Faina.
Mr Wetangula said Kenya was against any form of ransom payment to ‘criminals’ and maintained that the government would not pay to secure freedom for the ships and its crew, who have been held since September.
“I wish to register our displeasure on the payment of ransom last week where the oil tanker was released. Paying encourages criminal acts and we do not support such initiatives,” he said.
“As you are aware, our cargo in the MV Faina is still in the hands of pirates. However long it takes, Kenya is not willing to pay ransom and will not pay any ransom. The cargo is not perishable,” he added.
“As far as we are concerned, the cargo is ours but the responsibility and insurance lies with the consigner,” the minister reiterated.
He spoke even as the captain of MV Faina appealed on Monday for its Israeli owner to engage in direct talks with its captors to end the crew’s 15-week ordeal.
Speaking to the AFP news agency by satellite telephone from the MV Faina, Vladimir Nikolsky complained that no direct contact had been made by the owner with the leader of the pirates since the vessel was seized on September 25.
"I think Vadim Alperin, the real ship owner, doesn’t know the real situation…. The owner’s representative I think has been hiding information from him," said Mr Nikolsky in his first interview since the hijacking.
The MV Faina, a 152.5 metre blue-hulled vessel sailing under a Belize flag of convenience, was carrying 33 Soviet-type T-72 battle tanks, other weapons and ammunition.
Its captain Vladimir Kolobkov died in unclear circumstances two days after the ship’s capture, leaving second mate Mr Nikolsky – who was contacted by AFP and spoke under the watch of his captors – in charge.
The ship’s cargo immediately sparked controversy. Kenya said it was the intended recipient of the weapons, but several other sources said the cargo was in fact destined for South Sudan.
Mr Nikolsky said that attempts to negotiate the ship’s release involving a flurry of middlemen, had failed due to a lack of determination to free the crew.
"The leader of the pirates, Mohammed Abdi, is ready to establish contact with the ship’s owner and he now refuses to make any contact with any other party," he said.
Mr Nikolsky said the crew – a Latvian, two Russians and 17 Ukrainians – were being decently treated, but stressed nevertheless that their ongoing captivity was taking its toll.
"The whole of the crew has been collected in a small room for more than three months. It’s a very hard psychological situation. It’s hard to stay in good health," said the captain, a Russian national.
"They are staying in a small room without moving, without any physical exercise…. Half of the crew is ill and the other half of the crew is going to go mad."
The MV Faina was headed to Kenya’s main port Mombasa when it was captured. It had only just enough fuel and supplies to reach its destination.
According to sources close to the pirates, the body of the deceased captain Mr Kolobkov is being kept in the same refrigerator where the crew and pirates keep some of their food.
"We use the same provisions as the pirates," Mr Nikolsky said. "Provisions are very poor. We eat one time in the evening and also we are given some water and sometimes we drink tea."
Saeed Hasan, a Somali academic acting as an intermediary and translator for the pirates, told AFP that medical attention is needed aboard the ship.
"We want a doctor and we want humanitarian assistance," he said, adding that Alperin should enter into direct talks with the pirates.
The MV Faina has been held longer than any other cargo ship since an upsurge in Somali piracy in recent years. A Nigerian tug boat captured six months ago is also being held.
"Direct contact from the ship owner is the only solution…. The owner created his own problem by resorting to unknown Somali and other foreign intermediaries for the negotiations," Saeed Hasan added.
Mr Nikolsky said that Alperin’s direct involvement could yield a breakthrough.
"In this case, he (the leader of the pirates) thinks that the mediation will run quick and successfully," he said.
"I want to address our best wishes to our families and say that we are healthy but that we are here while our families are so far from us."
There are an estimated 1,500 pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean – mainly fishermen and former coastguards who have turned Somalia’s waters into one of the world’s most dangerous.
The pirates who took the MV Faina are from the same clan as those who captured the Sirius Star, a Saudi supertanker with two million barrels of oil which was released on January 9, almost eight weeks after it was hijacked.