Pirates on the High Seas Brings in Russian Warship

From the AP comes this story:

A Russian warship headed for the seas off Somalia Friday after pirates seized a Ukrainian freighter carrying 33 tanks, munitions and other weaponry, officials said.

The Faina, with a crew of 21, including three Russians, was hijacked on Thursday as it neared the Kenyan port of Mombasa with a cargo of T-72 battle tanks, grenade launchers, ammunition and spares for the Kenyan military, they said.

The frigate Neustrashimy (Fearless) was ordered to the region in response to "the rise in pirate attacks, including against Russian citizens," said Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said.

"Russia’s navy will send ships for temporary missions to areas made dangerous because of maritime piracy to protect Russian citizens and guarantee the safety of shipping," he said.

The frigate, armed with missiles and guns and carrying a crew of up to 200, will stay near Somalia "for more than two months in order to guarantee the safety of Russian ships," RIA Novosti news agency quoted the commander of the Baltic Fleet, Viktor Mardusin, as saying.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said late Thursday there were 17 Ukrainian nationals, three Russians and one Latvian aboard the Belize-flagged vessel.
"The captain reported that three cutter boats with armed people approached the Faina, and then communication was cut off," it added, quoting information given by operators Tomax Team.

In Nairobi Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said Friday the cargo includes "military hardware such as tanks and an assortment of spare parts for use by different branches of the Kenyan military."

"The government is in contact with international maritime agencies and other security partners in an endeavour to secure the ship and cargo," he said in a statement.

"However, it should be noted that because the ship had not yet docked at Mombasa, the responsibility of the insured cargo rests with the shipper."

In Kiev, Ukrainian Defence Minister Yury Yekhanurov said the Faina was carrying 33 T-72 tanks, grenade-launchers and ammunition.

Lawmaker Valery Konovalyuk, head of a parliamentary committee that oversees Ukraine’s arms deals, told AFP the tanks had been sold to Kenya.
The cargo was one of the last shipments under a contract which saw 77 tanks supplied in 2007, he said.

The Soviet-era T-72 was a frontline tank in Warsaw Pact states and is still in service in more than 30 countries. The tanks and other weaponry carried on the Faina would be greatly prized by any of the warlords fighting each other in lawless Somalia.

Dozens of ships, mainly merchant vessels, have been seized by gangs off Somalia’s 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coastline in recent years, despite the presence of Western navies deployed in the region to fight terrorism.

The pirates use speedboats and are armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The harbour at Eyl, in the breakaway northern Somali province of Puntland, is a favourite hideout, and they sometimes hold ships for weeks until they are released for large ransoms paid by governments or owners.

In recent months, a multinational taskforce based in Djibouti has been patrolling parts of the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, where a pirate mothership is believed to be operating.

French naval commandos took action against pirates who seized two sailing vessels with French citizens aboard and arrested a dozen suspects.
They were brought to France and are awaiting trial on charges of hijacking, hostage-taking and armed robbery, which carry life sentences.

Somalia has been without an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre set off a deadly power struggle that has defied more than a dozen peace initiatives.

Some pirates have justified their actions by claiming that, in the absence of a functional central authority in Somalia, they were battling illegal fishing and toxic waste dumping by foreign countries.

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