Somali pirates have released a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks and
other weapons, after receiving a ransom payment of more than $ 3 million. The ship had been held off the coast of Somalia
Pirates left the MV Faina following the
payment of a $3.2 million ransom on Wednesday. The ship, which was
ferrying 33 Soviet tanks, along with anti-aircraft weapons, grenade
launchers, and other arms to the Kenyan port of Mombassa, had been
anchored near the Somali port of Harardhere.
The ship's cargo
has stirred considerable controversy. The Kenyan government has
maintained the weapons are for its own use, but many observers,
including diplomats in the region, have said the arms are destined for
the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan.
rebels signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in 2005,
with negotiations held in Kenya. But that deal appears increasingly
shaky, and both the northern and southern Sudanese governments are
believed to be building up their arms supplies with an eye to a
possible return to conflict.
A senior researcher on arms
transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute,
Pieter Wezeman, says similar tanks from previous shipments to Mombassa
have not been spotted by observers, either in Kenya or in Southern
"If the Kenyan government has ordered them and has taken
possession of them, as they should have, then you would in a way expect
them to show them off somewhere, just to show that they have them.
That has never happened. So it remains a mystery and the suspicion
that they were intended for, or that they even have gone to, South
Sudan remains. But there is no clear proof that they actually went
there," said Wezeman.
U.S. naval ships are guarding the MV
Faina, and the Ukrainian government has said that the ship will
continue on to Mombassa. According to Weseman, the Kenyan government
will have a difficult time keeping the destination of the weapons under
"Everyone knows about the ship, a lot of people are
interested in what is on there. I think the Kenyan government will
have a challenge to make it possible for people to follow the
whereabouts of these tanks," he said.
Wezeman says that while
the arms buildup by the northern Sudanese government in recent years
has been well documented, there is little information available on
weapons supplies to southern Sudan. But with estimates that military
spending consumes around half of Southern Sudan's budget, few observers
doubt that the southern government is importing significant quantities
of arms as well.
Somali pirates captured 42 ships last year.
They have captured an additional three since the start of 2009. In
response to the wave of attacks, countries around the world have sent
more than 20 ships to patrol the waters off the coast of Somalia.