MOMBASA, Kenya, Feb 12 – A Ukrainian vessel released by Somali pirates a week ago finally docked at the Mombasa port late on Thursday, ending months of anxiety over the fate of its crew and cargo.,
The Belize-flagged MV Faina which remained in the control of pirates for 134 days was released on February 5 after the owners paid a $3.2 million ransom to the buccaneers.
Military spokesman Bogita Ongeri said the ship docked at 3.30 pm.
“It has finally docked, we are now making preparations to start offloading the cargo which will be done once everything is settled,” he said.
“There is a lot to be done; there is the crew in the ship and many other procedures that are normal. But so far, everything is just fine. Our cargo is safe,” he told Capital News on telephone from the port city.
Chief of General Staff General Jeremiah Kianga said: “It is good news for the tax payer because what they paid for is finally here.”
“We don’t need to maintain that it is our cargo, we should all be grateful that at last we have received what we bought. It is not sinking somewhere in the ocean or being diverted by some pirates to other countries,” he said at the opening of the Kenyan Rapid Deployment Capacity headquarters in Nairobi.
A Ukrainian delegation flew in from Kiev with a fresh crew to replace the 20 seamen who were held hostage for 134 days.
The MV Faina’s Russian captain died two days after the September 25 hijacking and his body is to be repatriated.
The cargo of 33 refurbished Soviet-era T-72 tanks and at least 14,000 rounds of ammunition was to be offloaded and dispatched to Kenyan military bases, the army spokesman said.
While Kenya has always insisted the shipment was for its armed forces, several experts and diplomats in the region maintained it was destined for the government of South Sudan and was the fifth delivery of its kind in less than two years.
But on Thursday, both Kenyan and Ukrainian officials who were in Mombasa reiterated that there was nothing more to the Faina’s cargo than a transparent military transaction between the two governments.
"The cargo the Faina is carrying was purchased from the Ukrainian government by the Kenyan government. This is our cargo," Kenyan assistant defence minister David Musila told Ukrainian officials.
"We can observe that the cargo was delivered legally from Ukraine to the state of Kenya for the Kenyan armed forces," said Ukrainian intelligence Chief Mikola Malomuzh.
"We would like to deny any accusation that the cargo was headed to another country," he added.
Speaking at a separate event in Nairobi, Gen Kianga hammered home the same message.
"We have nothing to hide, Kenyans need defence and they have paid for it… Anybody who can sell weapons to us at the best price and they meet our specifications that is where we buy. So there is no problem at all about this cargo," he said.
Vadim Alperin, an Israeli-Ukrainian businessman who was only identified as the ship-owner late in the hijacking, was also part of the delegation.
The Somali pirates who seized the Faina initially demanded $35 million in ransom but rapidly lowered the figure to what was eventually paid four months later.
Mr Alperin claimed he was personally involved in the ransom talks, first through a private British firm specialised in hostage situations and later through Somali middlemen with ties to the pirates.
"We would communicate in English by fax, by email and telephone, as if dealing with regular markets. We initially offered them $100,000. Gradually, our positions got closer," Mr Alperin told reporters.
"The pirates were always changing the amount of the ransom, they would hang up the phone and it wasn’t always clear who on their side was empowered to negotiate and give guarantees that a deal would be respected," he added.
Mr Alperin also said that in the meantime, the Ukrainian intelligence services "gathered information on the pirates and looked for leverage."
Mr Alperin claimed that a deal had been reached in December for $1.7 million and that he brought the money to Kenya himself "with two members of the Ukrainian services" on a small Challenger plane.
He accused a US national with business ties in Somalia of interfering with the negotiations and scuppering the deal at the last minute.
Pirates and the Faina’s second mate, when contacted by AFP in January, said they had had no direct contact with Mr Alperin and explained that the ransom talks had barely got off the ground more than three months into the hijacking.
The cause of Russian captain Vladimir Kolobkov’s death has yet to be scientifically determined and it was not immediately clear if an autopsy would be performed and where.