Thursday, February 5, 2009

Pirates Release Ukrainian Ship's Crew; US Monitors Situation

INDIAN OCEAN (Feb. 4, 2009) Ransom money is dropped in the vicinity of the MV Faina off the coast of Somalia near Hobyo while under observation by a U.S. Navy ship. Pirates did not actually leave the ship until Feb. 5, more than 24 hours after this photo was taken. The Belize-flagged cargo ship is operated by Kaalbye Shipping Ukraine and is carrying a cargo of Ukranian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked Sept. 25, 2008 by pirates and forced to proceed to anchorage off the Somali Coast. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael R. McCormick.)

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2009 -- Pirates today released the Ukrainian ship Faina, which they had held for ransom along with its 21-member crew and cargo since hijacking the vessel off the coast of Somalia in September.

The U.S. military is monitoring the situation, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. The ship's crew was unharmed, according to news reports.

“I think that it is always a good outcome when there are not lives that are lost,” Whitman said of the hijacking’s peaceful outcome.

Seagoing pirates operating off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen have preyed on commercial shipping, often holding captured vessels, cargoes and crews for millions of dollars in ransom money. The problem seemed to worsen until last month’s stand-up of a multinational, anti-pirate consortium known as Combined Task Force 151.

The pirates who hijacked the Faina reportedly were paid a sizable ransom that was air-dropped aboard the hijacked vessel.

The pirates may have gotten away in this instance, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that piracy is a crime, Whitman said.

Piracy “is a troubling and concerning activity, as we’ve talked about in the past; it’s an illegal activity,” Whitman said.

“But, I guess if there’s any silver lining,” Whitman continued, “it’s that in most of these cases to date, [the] crews have ultimately been released unharmed.”

The Faina was transporting an estimated $30 million of Russian military equipment to Kenya when it was intercepted Sept. 25 by pirates cruising off the coast of Somalia.

Kenya is an east African nation that faces the Indian Ocean. Kenya’s neighbors include Ethiopia and Somalia to the north and northeast, Uganda and Sudan to the northwest, and Tanzania to the south.

U.S. authorities were not concerned that the military equipment aboard the Faina was to be delivered to Kenya, a U.S. ally in the region, officials said. In fact, the Kenyan government announced recently that it would try pirates captured by the U.S. military.

The key Pentagon concern in the days after the Faina’s hijacking was that the ship’s cargo could be sold to terrorists.

“Our concern is making sure that this cargo does not end up in the hands of anyone who would use it in a way that would be destabilizing to the region, and we have committed significant resources to make sure those objectives are met,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters Sept. 30.

(Report by Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service.)

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