Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pirates in Somalia have released the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying a cargo of 33 T-72 tanks, along with 20 of its crew of 21, the Russian captain having been killed by hypertension during the hijack.

A ransom of US$3.2 million was paid for the ship’s release, compared to the $20 million previously demanded and also down from the initial request for $35 million after the capture in September. By January 16 the ransom sought was $5 million, with negotiations occurring directly between the pirates and the ship’s owner. In October the pirates threatened to blow the ship up unless this was paid within days, and stated they were willing to die and take the crew with them, but this threat was never carried out.

The ransom came in on Wednesday, and after counting the money the pirates left the vessel on Thursday. One pirate, Segule Ali, said of the payment that “no huge amount has been paid, but something to cover our expenses.”

No huge amount has been paid, but something to cover our expenses

The ownership of the cargo, which includes ammunition, rocket launchers, small arms and spare parts as well as tanks, is uncertain. Although the shipment was said to be for Kenya, as acknowledged by the Kenyan government, the pirates claim to have documents proving they were destined for Sudan, currently the subject of a United Nations arms embargo. Sudan denies this.

At one point, with the ship anchored off Harardhere, the pirates claimed they had put down an attempted revolt by the crew. However, the Faina’s owner has expressed doubts about the veracity of this report, which originated with the pirates themselves.

The remaining crew are reported to be healthy by the Ukrainian Presidency and the ship is now heading to Mombasa under US Navy escort. There are 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and a Latvian on board.

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