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MPs probe hijacked cargo

Friday October 10 2008

The pirated merchant ship MV Faina is seen from a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser on Monday. Somali pirates holding a Ukrainian ship carrying 33 tanks reiterated their demands for a $20 million ransom on Tuesday and denied three of their number had died in a shootout. Photo/REUTERS

The hijacked merchant ship MV Faina as seen from a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser last week. Photo/REUTERS 

By GITHUA KIHARA and DOMINIC WABALA

A parliamentary committee investigating the hijacked Ukrainian ship has received reports showing similar consignments of arms destined for Southern Sudan were imported in the ministry of Defence’s name.

The Defence and Foreign Relations Committee chaired by Wajir West MP, Mr Adan Keynan arrived at the port of Mombasa on Thursday and interviewed officials of the Kenya Ports Authority and related agencies.

The revelations came as pirates hijacked yet another ship in the Gulf of Aden a day after they released a Japanese ship following payment of a Sh113 million ransom.

Similar imports

Somali merchant ship MV Awail that was carrying cement was seized as it sailed between Oman and Somalia on Thursday afternoon.

Sources said the committee was given details of past similar imports of T-72 tanks and arms and a list of those behind the importation of the cargoes.

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The list includes top retired military officers and prominent Kenyan individuals.

Mr Keynan declined to comment on the probe, but sources said that details given to the committee revealed that the Department of Defence was merely “a conveyor to South Sudan.”

Several senior maritime officials in Mombasa have been interrogated in an investigation prompted by the hijacking of Ukrainian vessel MV Faina and its arms cargo by Somali pirates more than two weeks ago.

The committee wants to establish the ownership of the arms as well as past shipments reportedly handled by the port.

Among those interrogated was the port’s acting managing director, Mr Andrew Mulewa, Kenya Maritime Authority director general Ms Nancy Karigithu, officials from Rift Valley Railways, Kenya Revenue Authority and Port Police boss Nelson Njiri.

All those interrogated refused to disclose any information except the general secretary of Seafarers Union of Kenya, Mr Abubakar Kilwa Omar, who said that he appeared before the committee to express concern over the safety of the 21 crew members aboard the hijacked ship.

He also said that the committee was interested in finding out whether there was any relationship between his union and Mr Andrew Mwangura, who coordinates East Africa Seafarers Assistance Programme.

Before his arrest on allegations of issuing an inflammatory statement and possessing bhang, Mr Mwangura had told the media that the arms on board the MV Faina were destined for Southern Sudan, a claim the Kenya Government vehemently denied, insisting they belonged to Kenya.

Mr Mwangura had also said that this would be the fourth arms shipment through Mombasa in the recent past, with earlier shipments also destined for Southern Sudan.

The United Nations has approved use of force to rescue the MV Faina, which is carrying 2,300 metric tonnes of the controversial military hardware including 33 T-72 battle tanks, grenade launchers and other artillery.

Heavy presence

The pirates are now demanding a ransom of US$8 million, down from the original US$35 million.

The hijackings have continued despite the heavy presence of six US Navy warships in the Gulf of Aden and a decision by Nato to send an equal number of warships to secure the important waterway that links Europe, Africa and the Middle East to the rest of the world.

In the latest hijacking, the ship with 15 crew including 13 Syrians and two Somalis and owned by a Somali trading company Barqawo was reportedly seized about 360 kilometres from the coast of Puntland.

Ali Abdi Aware, the foreign minister of the semi autonomous region of Puntland told Associated Press that the pirates commandeered the ship and anchored it about 250 kilometres from the shore.

So far about 60 ships have been hijacked by pirates this year alone.