Pirates release Ukrainian ship, crew

Outlaws collect $3.2m in ransom

By Malkhadir M. Muhumed
Associated Press / February 6, 2009
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NAIROBI - Pirates freed a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons yesterday after receiving a $3.2 million ransom. The US Navy watched the pirates go but didn't act because the pirates still hold almost 150 people from other crews hostage.

The seizure of the MV Faina was one of the most brazen in a surge of pirate attacks on shipping off the Somalia coast. Vessels from the US Navy's 5th Fleet quickly surrounded it after it was seized in September, to make sure the cargo did not get into the hands of Somali insurgent groups believed to have links to Al Qaeda.

US seamen were inspecting the pirates' departing boats to make sure they weren't taking weapons from the Faina's cargo, Mikhail Voitenko, a spokesman for the ship's owners, said yesterday.

But the Navy was not taking action against the pirates because it did not want members of other crews still in captivity to be harmed, said Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

"Even when you release Faina, there are still 147 mariners held hostage by armed pirates," Campbell said. "We're concerned for their well-being."

The captain of the MV Faina, Viktor Nikolsky, said the ship was under the protection of the US Navy and will head to Mombasa, Kenya.

He said all crew members need medical attention.

Pirate spokesman Sugule Ali told the Associated Press by satellite phone that the pirates were leaving the ship slowly because the waters are "a bit turbulent." He spoke from the central Somali coastal town of Harardhere, near where the MV Faina had been anchored.

Ali said his group was paid a ransom of $3.2 million, which he said was dropped by plane.

Voitenko said the ransom was far below the pirates' original demand of $20 million.

The MV Faina was loaded with 33 Soviet tanks and crates of small arms. In the past, diplomats in the region have said the cargo was destined for southern Sudan, something the autonomous region has denied.

Spokesman Alfred Mutua repeated the Kenyan government's claim to the cargo yesterday.

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