Ukrainian ship MV Faina sailing on Kenya Waters

Other News Materials 9 February 2009 11:46 (UTC +04:00)

A Ukrainian ship freed by Somali pirates last week is sailing on Kenyan waters and is expected to dock Mombasa port early this week, maritime officials said on Monday.

The Kenyan-bound MV Faina which was seized in September last year was released last Thursday for 3.2 million U.S. dollar ransom and is loaded with 33 tanks and other weapons, Xinhua reported.

The maritime official said the 17 crew members had received medical aid from the US navy and were well.

"The ship is sailing on Kenyan waters and is expected to dock Mombasa port either later this afternoon or early Tuesday. All crew members are said to be safe and in high spirits," maritime official who declined to be named told Xinhua on Monday.

The official said the MV Faina had to refuel and take on fresh supplies for the trip to Mombasa.

The ship owner's spokesman, Mikhail Voitenko, said a ransom was paid to about 100 pirates on board the MV Faina. Russian media reported that the ransom was dropped on the ship from an aircraft.

During the four-month ordeal, the Ukrainian arms vessel was closely monitored by U.S. ships because it was stocked with weapons, including dozens of refurbished T-72 tanks and thousands of tons of other military equipment.

Kenya claims the tanks, rocket launchers and small arms on board belong to its armed forces; however, the freight manifest suggests the arms were heading for southern Sudan.

The government of southern Sudan, which is said to be beefing up its military capacity ahead of the 2011 referendum, has also denied ownership of the arms.

Ukrainian intelligence officials say they have "100 percent confirmation" that the arms on a ship are destined for Kenya.

"The Kenyan Defence Ministry's authorities said they want to train their servicemen to handle these weapons at our bases," the head of Ukraine's External Intelligence Service, Mykola Malomuzh, was quoted as saying by Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

There has been international concern the weapons could end up in the hands of terror groups such as Al-Qaeda. Ukraine's government has come under pressure to explain the shipment.

About a dozen other vessels are believed to remain in captivity off Somalia's coast.

A number of warships from foreign navies had been diverted to the area to monitor the situation, in part to ensure that the cargo of weaponry did not get into the hands of Somali insurgents.

The intended destination of the vessel's cargo has been the subject of much dispute.

Somali waters, considered to be among the most dangerous in the world, are now patrolled by a fleet of international naval warships which provide escorts to ships sailing along the coast.

Most attacks have been in the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and north Somalia, a major route leading to the Suez Canal linking Europe and Asia.