Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife at BosNewsLife News Center
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– Ukraine says a cargo ship laden with weapons, which was held by pirates off the coast of Somalia since September, has been freed, BosNewsLife monitored Friday, February 6.
In a brief statement, the office of Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko said a Ukrainian arms ship and its crew of 20 seamen – a Latvian, two Russians and 17 Ukrainians – were freed by Somali pirates.
The vessel’s captain died, apparently of natural causes, two days after the ship was seized in the Indian Ocean.
Yushenko’s statement welcomed the end of the protracted process to free the MV Faina. He said it came after “an operation involving special services agents” from Ukraine.
The ship owner’s spokesman, Mikhail Voitenko, said a ransom was paid to about 100 pirates on board the MV Faina. He did not specify the amount, but Russian media reported that about $3.2 million was dropped on the ship from an aircraft.
Speaking by telephone, Voitenko said pirates were busy counting the money. “There are about 100 pirates on board of [the MV] Faina right now,” he explained. “They came on board of Faina to count this money…As for the final release, you have to wait for several hours or more. Because pirates the count the money, sometimes up to 24 hours.”
But the captain of a Danish vessel, which was also seized near Somalia before being freed, warned of euphoria.
Speaking through an interpreter to media, Captain Andrey Nozhkin recalled what happened when ransom was paid for his crew last month. “As soon as the money was received it became tense,” he said. “Their leader sat down on top of the money, reloaded his machine gun, then threw two ammo clips, and up to 16 hours they were dividing the money among themselves. And all that while, they were doing drugs at the same time.”
During the ordeal, the Ukrainian arms vessel was closely monitored by U.S. ships as it was laden with weapons, including dozens of refurbished T-72 tanks and thousands of tonnes of other military equipment.
There has been international concern the weaponry could end up in the hand of terror groups such as Al-Qaeda who are believed to operate in war-torn Somalia.
Ukraine’s government has come under opposition pressure to explain the shipment, amid allegations the weapons were exported to southern Sudan, despite international concerns over human rights abuses by armed groups in that country.
Kyiv has denied the accusations, saying the shipment was destined for the Kenyan army.
Yet speaking on Russia Today television, the father of a crew member, Viktor Shapovalov, said parents have been concerned their children had become victims of a political ploy. “Even before the pirates seized the ship, with such a cargo” [it was a political issue], he said, as family members nervously looked on.”We believe this incident is politicized. This may be the reason why the negotiations have been continuing for so long. We fear framing our children may cause problems for somebody.”
Piracy is a huge business in Somalia, a poor, violent country that has been facing anarchy since 1991 without a functioning central government. Maritime officials have criticized ship owners who pay ransoms, saying that this only fuels the problem and leads to more attacks.
About a dozen other vessels are believed to remain in captivity off Somalia’s coast. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate proffesionals).