News & Current Affairs

September 29, 2008

Warships surround Somali pirates

Warships surround Somali pirates

Pirates in small boats sail close to the MV Faina (Photo: US Navy)

Somali pirates aboard a ship carrying tanks and weapons that they have seized say they are surrounded by at least three foreign warships.

One is the American US destroyer USS Howard, another is from Russia but the nationality of the third is not clear.

But one of the pirates said they were not afraid and had enough food to withstand a siege.

A maritime expert said the ship was carrying “dangerous chemicals” and warned against using force.

Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenya-based Seafarers’ Programme, also told Reuters news agency that a military helicopter had flown over pirate speedboats heading to reinforce the Ukrainian-operated ship, the Faina, moored near the town of Hobyo.

“With the helicopter and the Howard watching them, the tactic is clearly to scare the pirates.”

We are not afraid of their presence, that will not make us to abandon the ship or to refrain from asking for money
Sugule Ali
Spokesman for the pirates

Pirate Sugule Ali told the AFP news agency by satellite phone that his group wanted a ransom of $20m (£11m) and were not interested in the weapons.

Earlier, the pirates had demanded $35m.

“It is true we are surrounded by three foreign military vessels and there are some others we can see in the distance,” Mr Ali said.

“We are not afraid of their presence, that will not make us to abandon the ship or to refrain from asking for money.

“There is no shortage of food supply and all the crew members are healthy and well, including ours.”

He admitted that one of the kidnapped sailors had died, but said this was from natural causes.

Meanwhile, Kenya has insisted that the shipment of 33 72-T tanks on board were destined for its military.

Various sources have suggested that they were really bound for the autonomous government of South Sudan, in possible contravention of a UN arms embargo.

‘Propaganda’

Mr Mwangura said two previous shipment of Ukrainian weapons had already passed through Kenya.

“There have been alarming propaganda by the pirates to media that the weapons are not for the Kenyan military. This is a tactic by the terrorists to try and fend off reprisals against them,” Kenya’s government spokesman Alfred Mutua said.

The former rebel SPLA which governs South Sudan has denied any links to the tanks, reports the UN-sponsored Radio Miraya FM.

Map

However, it also quoted the SPLA’s Major General Byor Ajang as saying that the army had the right to import weapons from anywhere in the world without co-ordination with the government in the north.

Earlier, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, Lt Nathan Christensen, said the USS Howard was within 8km (5 miles) of the Ukrainian vessel, but refused to say whether they were preparing to attack the pirates.

He said the ship’s cargo of battle tanks made it a particularly worrying situation.

“We’re concerned that this might end up in the wrong hands, such as terrorists or violent extremists,” he said.

Islamist insurgents, not known to have links to the pirate gangs, are battling government troops, their Ethiopian allies and African Union peacekeepers in the capital, Mogadishu.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered continual civil strife, with rival armed groups fighting for control.

The waters off the coast of Somalia are considered some of the world’s most dangerous.

Even ships carrying food aid are often targeted, hampering the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the estimated three million Somalis in need of aid.

France, which has troops in nearby Djibouti and also participates in a multi-national naval force patrol in the area, has intervened twice to release French sailors kidnapped by pirates.

Authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland say they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl.

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September 27, 2008

Pirates ‘want $35m for tank ship’

Pirates ‘want $35m for tank ship’

Experts say piracy has become big business in the area

Pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship off the coast of Somalia have reportedly demanded a ransom of $35m (£19m) to release the vessel and its crew.

The pirates earlier warned against any attempt to rescue the crew or cargo of the MV Faina, which is carrying 33 battle tanks destined for Kenya.

Pirates have seized dozens of ships near Somalia’s coast in recent months.

A Russian Navy vessel is heading to the region and the US says it is monitoring developments in the area.

A spokesman for the pirates, who gave his name as Jalal Jama Ali, told a Somali website that the group were prepared to negotiate with the Kenyan government, but would not release the vessel unless the ransom was paid.

‘Global security problem’

On Friday, Ukrainian Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov confirmed 33 Russian T-72 tanks and “a substantial quantity of ammunition” were aboard the Faina.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

The ship’s captain had reported being surrounded by three boats of armed men on Thursday afternoon, it said.

Earlier reports suggested that the cargo had been destined for south Sudan, but Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed the tanks were heading to Kenya.

“The cargo in the ship includes military hardware such as tanks and an assortment of spare parts for use by different branches of the Kenyan military,” he said.

Security analyst Knox Chitiyo told the BBC the latest incident showed the waters off Somalia’s coast had become a “global security problem”.

“Piracy has become big business and there seems to be no concerted response to the problem,” said Mr Chitiyo, from the London-based Royal United Services Institute.

Authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland say they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl.

Battles and looting in Mogadishu
Life in Somalia’s pirate town

Senior UN officials estimate the ransoms pirates earn from hijacking ships exceed $100m (£54m) a year.

Pirate “mother ships” travel far out to sea and launch smaller boats to attack passing vessels, sometimes using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

Last week, France circulated a draft UN resolution urging states to deploy naval vessels and aircraft to combat such piracy.

France, which has troops in nearby Djibouti and also participates in a multi-national naval force patrol in the area, has intervened twice to release French sailors kidnapped by pirates.

Commandos freed two people whose boat was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden earlier this month and in April, six arrested pirates were handed over to the French authorities for trial.

Russia announced on Friday it would start carrying out regular anti-piracy patrols in the waters off Somalia to protect Russian citizens and ships. A warship had been sent to the area earlier this week, it said.

Somalia has been without a functioning central government for 17 years and has suffered from continual civil strife.

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