Crowd cheers as Ukrainian ship sails in

Thursday February 12 2009

Kenyans watch the Ukrainian ship MV Faina, escorted by the Kenya navy, as it arrives at the port of Mombasa, 500 km (310 miles) from the capital Nairobi, on Thursday. Photo/REUTERS

Kenyans watch the Ukrainian ship MV Faina, escorted by the Kenya navy, as it arrives at the port of Mombasa, 500 km (310 miles) from the capital Nairobi, on Thursday. Photo/REUTERS 

By NATION Team

Cheering crowds jammed Mama Ngina Gardens at Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa as mv Faina sailed to the port with its military hardware, a week after it was released by pirates.

The Ukrainian ship which had been held for five months was released on Thursday last week after the owners paid a $3.5 million (Sh275 million) ransom.

At exactly 3.59pm, the ship, which had 33 Soviet made T-72 tanks and an assortment of military equipment, anchored to safety at the port of Mombasa. Prior to anchoring, smoke billowed from the chimney of the ship.

Pushed to berth

The vessel was pushed to the berth by tug boats which had received it at the entrance of the channel to the port off Mama Ngina Drive.

People started flocking into the park as early as 11am, anxious to catch a glimpse of the vessel whose cargo generated a lot of interest both locally and abroad.

The equipment was said to belong to the Government of Southern Sudan which is currently not allowed to import weapons by the United Nations.

But in an earlier interview on Thursday at the Kenya Ports Authority, Government spokesman Alfred Mutua maintained that the equipment belongs to the Kenya military. Also present were Defence assistant minister David Musila, military spokesperson Bogita Ongeri and senior military and police officers.

There was tight security at the berth as personnel from the Kenya Army, Navy Police and Kenya Ports Authority cordoned off the area.

Block journalists

At one point, military officers attempted to block Nation journalists who were rushing from their offices to transmit the advance copy of the story.

Some crew members, dressed in orange overalls, could be seen anchored the ship with the help of officers of the ports authority. Waiting to inspect the goods were Kenya Revenue Authority personnel.

Aboard the ship was KPA harbour master Twalib Khamis, who guided the ship until it anchored to safety. Doctors boarded mv Faina to carry out inspections and diagnosis on its crew. The body of the captain of the ship who died a few days after the vessel was hijacked, was believed to be still on board.

A battery of local and international journalists who have been camping at the park for nearly a week captured the moment they had been waiting for as the vessel slowly shored into the port. Business came to a standstill at Likoni Channel as crowds watched the vessel sail into the safety of Kilindini harbour.

Military hardware

In Nairobi, Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga said Kenya was happy to finally receive the military hardware including the 33 battle tanks that had been held by pirates for four and half months.

“The hardware belongs to Kenya. We tendered for them and bought the best at a good price. It cost us quite a substantial amount of money,” Gen Kianga said.

It was hijacked by more than 50 pirates off the coast of Somalia on September 25, 2008. The Chief of General Staff was speaking at Kenya Rapid Deployment Capacity base at Embakasi, Nairobi.

He was accompanied by the British Chief of General Staff General Sir Richard Dannat. The centre will provide a 7,000-man strong high readiness unit to respond to emergencies in the East African region.

“Emphasis is on speed of action. It will be based on quality within quantity. “It will provide African solutions to African problems,” Gen Kianga said.

Reports by Gitonga Marete, Philip Muyanga and Dominic Wabala