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Hijacked Arms Ship Arrives in Kenya

An arms-laden freighter, freed after being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia since September, has docked in the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Kenyan officials say the final destination of the ship's cargo of tanks and other weapons will be military bases in Kenya.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua invited the media to witness the long-awaited arrival of the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina to Mombasa.

"The ship is going to dock at berth number five," he said. "We are going to set up a good press center for you whereby everything will be open."

The openness of the event was clearly intended to avoid the barrage of negative publicity the Kenyan government received after the ship and its cargo of 33 Russian-built tanks and other weapons were seized last September by Somali pirates.

Back then, Kenyan officials maintained an air of secrecy after a local maritime official and the U.S. Navy stated the cargo's final destination was South Sudan, not Kenya as the government had claimed.

Suspicions about whether Kenya is diverting arms to South Sudan deepened after the Mombasa-based maritime official, Andrew Mwangura, was arrested and briefly jailed for making what the Kenyan police described as false and alarming statements.

Kenya sponsored the peace talks that ended Sudan's civil war between the north and south four years ago.

On Thursday, Kenyan and Ukrainian officials meeting in Mombasa reiterated that the cargo represented nothing more than a transparent military transaction between their two governments.

Kenya's Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga said the off-loaded tanks and more than 14,000 rounds of ammunition would be delivered to Kenyan military bases.

The MV Faina was released last week after the owner paid a ransom of more than $3 million, far lower than the pirates' initial demand of $25 million. The ship's Russian captain died two days after the hijacking, but his body remained on board with his crew of 20 sailors for 134 days.

Mutua said the crew's health is a concern and they would be free to leave Kenya once they have had thorough medical examinations.

"These people have been held at sea for a long time in the company of a body and we would like to quarantine them as quickly as possible for a medical check-up," said Mutua. "This is going to be done by Kenyan and Ukrainian doctors to see if they are fit and also to stop any form of infection."

It is not known what caused the death of the ship's captain. A Ukrainian television channel reported Wednesday that military sources there have suggested that the Faina's captain may have been poisoned to keep the cargo's destination a secret.

It is also not immediately clear if an autopsy would be performed and where.