Showdown at sea over hijacked ship
Posted Saturday, September 27 2008 at 22:15
All branches of the Kenyan Armed Forces were on full alert on Sunday night and heading for a showdown with the pirates who seized a cargo ship carrying battle tanks for the army.
The Navy put to sea and was racing to take up position in a joint operation to recover the hijacked Ukrainian cargo vessel, which was also carrying arms and ammunition.
“All branches of the military are working with partners to solve the problem,” said a senior government official, who did not wish to be quoted discussing an ongoing, security operation.
The official would not say which units were involved and what actions they were taking.
The Forces were ordered into action even as a heavily armed Russian warship entered Somalia waters and was preparing to rescue the crew of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and a Latvian aboard the hijacked ship, the MV Faina.
A United States warship was also in the area and said by Pentagon officials to be tracking both the Faina and the Russian missile frigate, the Neustrashimy.
Government spokesperson Alfred Mutua said that the government, together with its security partners, had by Saturday evening established that the ship had not yet docked at any port.
“The government does not and will not negotiate with international criminals, pirates and terrorists and will endeavour to recover the hijacked ship and military cargo,” Mr Mutua said in a statement posted on his website.
But the rescue mission was fraught with danger.
For as well as the 33 T-72 tanks, the Faina was carrying huge quantities of ammunition and grenade launchers for the Kenyan forces, making it a floating ammunition dump.
Any firefight could result in a massive explosion that would blow the freighter out of the water, killing the very people they were trying to rescue.
And if Russian commandos attempted to storm the Faina — a Ukrainian ship sailing under a Belize flag — it was feared the pirates would use the crew as human shields.
It was believed as many as 100 pirates from the self-styled Somalia Youth Coastguard were in control of the Faina.
They struck 200 miles off the Somalia coast in three speedboats launched from a mother ship, on Thursday.
Racing to incept the seized vessel, the Neustrashimy — it means Dauntless — is armed with surface-to-air missiles, 100-millimeter guns and anti-submarine torpedoes.
A Somalia Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Faysal Ahmed told the Sunday Nation that he suspected that the hijackers were working in concert with Al Shabaab, a terrorist group that has been linked with Al Qaeda.