Somali FM: International community may use force against hijacked ships
This announcement Wednesday, Oct. 1, may signal the end of the standoff surrounding the pirates holding the Ukrainian Faina, crew and its arms freight.
The US warship Howard of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet and European vessels have surrounded the distressed freighter since Sunday, Sept. 28.
debkafile‘s sources reported they were determined to prevent the Somali pirates aboard from unloading its weapons cargo and allowing it to reach al Qaeda networks in Sudan or Kenya. Lt. Nathan Christensen, US Navy’s 5th Fleet spokesman said that the tanks and other weapons must be prevented from ending up “in the wrong hands.”
The Somali authorities, lacking a functioning government since 1991, are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships to ransom off their shores and in the Gulf of Aden.
They say that at least 100 pirates from the dreaded Somali Youth Coast Guard were in control of the Faina.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources disclose that the Faina, sailing under a Belize flag, is carrying 2,500 tons of Ukrainian military hardware worth some $30 million, including 33 T-72 tanks, RPG rocket-propelled grenades, ZU-23 automatic anti-air guns, a quantity of ammunition and spare parts – a veritable treasure trove for the pirates.
A spokesman for the pirates, Sugule Ali, said his men would fight to the death to protect their booty, but would release the ship on payment of a $20 million ransom.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Ukrspetsexport company said the cargo was a legitimate arms shipment consigned to Kenya like others in the past.
Sources in Mombasa reported that at least part of a shipment of 80 tanks was in fact destined for South Sudan, where a fragile peace accord prevails after a long and bloody civil war.
The Faina crew is described as numbering 21, of which 17 are Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian. Their captain Viktor Nikolsky reported that one of the crew had died of hypertension. He spoke via a satellite phone provided by one of the pirates.
Last Wednesday, the Russian navy diverted the missile destroyer Neustrashimy from the Baltic to Somali waters.
Some questions surround the Faina episode. The vessel’s operators Tomex Team of Odessa have not commented on its seizure. There is some suspicion that the pirates did not capture the ship at random but lay in wait for it in three fast boats 200 miles out to sea.
If this was a planned ambush, it would attest to collusion between al the Qaeda networks of East Africa, the Somali militias and some of the pirate bands infesting its waters. The inference would be that terrorism was at work here under the assumed name of piracy. This would explain the convergence of US, European and Russian warships in these dangerous waters.