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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Somali Pirates: Under the Eyes of the U.S. Navy

NavCent press release here :
MANAMA, Bahrain - The U.S. 5th Fleet continues to actively monitor the situation with Motor Vessel Faina, the Belize-flagged cargo ship, which was captured Sept. 25.

San Diego-based destroyer USS Howard (DDG 83) is on station and is in visual range of MV Faina, which is anchored off the Somalia coast near the harbor city of Hobyo.

"Howard is on-station," said Cmdr. Curtis Goodnight, Howard Commanding Officer. "My crew is actively monitoring the situation, keeping constant watch on the vessel and the waters in the immediate vicinity."

Two other pirated vessels, MV Capt Stefanos and MV Centauri, are also anchored at this location.

This incident highlights the complexity of the situation in the region. MV Faina is owned and operated by "Kaalybe Shipping Ukraine," and is carrying a cargo of T-72 tanks and related equipment. Its crew is comprised of citizens from Ukraine, Russia and Latvia. There is no indication that the ship had a security team aboard.

Howard is part of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO).

MSO help develop security in the maritime environment. From security arises stability that results in global economic prosperity. MSO complements the counterterrorism and security efforts of regional nations and seek to disrupt violent extremists' use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.
U.S. Navy photos showing pirate boats around Fainna and pirates on board the captured ship. Click on the photos to enlarge.

UPDATE: Pirates reduce ransom demand and one crewman has died as set out here:
As a heavily armed U.S. freighter patrolled nearby and planes flew overhead, a Somali pirate spokesman told The Associated Press his group was demanding a $20 million ransom to release a cargo ship loaded with Russian tanks.

The spokesman also warned that the pirates would fight to the death if any country tried military action to regain the ship, and a man who said he was the ship's captain reported that one crew member had died.
In a rare gesture of cooperation, the Americans appeared to be keeping an eye on the Faina until the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, reaches the area. The Russian ship was still somewhere in the Atlantic on Sunday, the Russian navy reported.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said he was speaking Sunday from the deck of the Faina via a satellite phone — and verified his location by handing the phone over to the ship's captain, who also spoke with the AP. It was not possible to further confirm their identities.

"We want ransom, nothing else. We need $20 million for the safe release of the ship and the crew," Ali said, adding that "if we are attacked, we will defend ourselves until the last one of us dies."
I have my doubts about the part about waiting for the Russian ship unless that's at the request of the government of the Ukraine, which is, after all, an independent nation, not part of Russia.

UPDATE: Arrows on map show locations where pirates are taking captured ships - Eyl is pointed to by the upper arrow, Hobyo by the lower.

UPDATE2: Some controversy over exactly where those tanks were headed:
The fate of the crew and cargo intercepted by pirates off Somalia remained in doubt last night even as fresh controversy emerged over the destination of the military hardware.

Military and diplomatic sources claimed the hardware was destined for Southern Sudan.

Sudan faces United Nations’ arms embargo, which Kenya is a signatory, and also guarantor to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended war between the South and the North after 25 years.

The claims were rebuffed by Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua who termed the assertion as "misleading and aimed at diverting the attention from Kenya to another country".

"There has been propaganda by the pirates that the weapons are not for the Kenyan military," read the statement posted online.

Mutua said efforts to secure the ship hijacked two days ago were going on. He maintained that the Government was not in contact with the pirates.

"The Government advises media to be cautious about being used by terrorists," he said.
UPDATE3: Pirates offloading portable weapons? See here:
Islamist extremists prepared last night to unload rocket-propelled grenades and anti-aircraft guns from a Ukrainian freighter seized by Somali pirates even as foreign warships surrounded the vessel.
“The Islamists have sent pick-ups from Mogadishu to go and collect the gear,” said an analyst with a network of Somali informers. “There's not much they can do with the tanks — they can't get them off — but the rest of the weapons they are trying to move ashore.”

Somalia's insurgents have made a series of impressive gains in recent weeks. They now control the port city of Kismayo and have armed and equipped pirate gangs as part of a campaign to control the seas.

Kenya's Government said that it was awaiting the weaponry aboard the ship, but similar shipments in the past have been sent on to southern Sudan.

Witnesses on the Somali coast said that the navy ships were using loudspeakers warning the pirates not to attempt to unload the cargo. A tribal chief and local fishermen about 250 miles north of Mogadishu said that they had seen the MV Faina near at least two ships.

“The pirates are now surrounded near the village of Hinbarwaqo by Western ships. They asked individuals in charge of the hijacking of the Ukrainian ship to come aboard the navy ship for talks,” said a local clan elder.
More here:
Controversy is looming over seized Ukrainian vessel carrying military equipment with fresh reports indicating that the arsenal was destined for south Sudan and not the Kenyan military.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said on Sunday the Somali pirates claim to be in possession of confidential documents showing that the arms were actually destined for southern Sudan and not Kenya.

Mwangura said that the hijacked ship-MV Faina was ferrying the fourth such consignment from Ukrainian to southern Sudan.

"One of the cargo arrived at the port of Mombasa in October last year, two in February this year. The seized load of 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and some ammunition was the fourth cargo with military equipment for southern Sudan," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone on Sunday.
It should be noted that the Chinese government strongly leans in favor of the government of Sudan to which it sells arms (see here). There is a lot going on here in the international politics arena.

UPDATE4: You might find this on "flags of convenience" interesting. The Faina is Ukrainian owned, Belize registered.

Earlier posts here and here and by hitting "label" MV Faina.

UPDATE5: A report that the pirates now demand only $5 million here. I suggest holding out until the pirates are willing to pay $2 million...

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