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Dec-08-2008 16:56printcomments

Talks With Somali Pirates Over Hi-Jacked Ukrainian Weapons Ship Underway

The body of Russian Vladimir Kolobkov, who died after a heat-stroke-induced heart-failure, is still onboard.

MV Faina
The MV Faina is a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship operated by a Ukrainian company that sails under a Belize flag of convenience. The Faina is owned by Waterlux AG, based in Panama City, and managed by Tomex Team in Odessa, Ukraine. Courtesy: cargolaw.com

(COAST OF AFRICA) - Efforts for a peaceful release of the Ukrainian vessel MV Faina are continuing, but the stand-off, now more than two months long, is not yet solved finally, though intensive negotiations have continued, say members of the organization Ecoterra International, which has been called in to avert a human and environmental disasters at the Somali coast.

The Somali captors holding the arms-laden cargo ship yesterday, reportedly accused the owners of stalling on a ransom payment and threatened to pull out of a deal for its release struck a week ago, Quatar sources and many news agencies reported.

A pirate spokesman said that the armed gang holding the Faina was unhappy about the delay in the ransom payment. "The ship's owners are taking too long to hand over the money," another spokesman, identifying himself only as Ahmed, said by telephone from Hobyo town, near the pirate lair of Harardheere.

Citing a pirate who also called himself Ahmed, Ukraine’s ICTV television said an agreement on the payment of a ransom was reached last week -- but the ship's owners have yet to hand over the money.

There have been consultations between the captors on the land and on the ship and everyone agreed that if the money is not delivered on time to abandon the agreement, Ahmed added, according to agency reports. Elders in the area who did not wish to be named said a ransom of $3.5m had been agreed for the ship, carrying 33 Soviet-type battle tanks, rocket launchers and ammunition when it was seized off Somalia more than two months ago.

Sugule Ali, the spokesman for the group of pirates aboard the Faina, said on November 30 that a final agreement on a ransom had been reached and it was just a matter of time and a few technicalities before the ship and its crew were released, which he said would occur within four days.

The US military has overflown the hijacked vessel several times to take pictures of the crew lined up on the bridge and verify that all were in good health. However, the Ombudswoman for Humanitarian Affairs of the Ukrainian Parliament is very much concerned about the fate of the fate of the crew.

The MV Faina was anchored a few miles off the coast of Harardhere, north of Mogadishu, and had been moved several times and the body of Russian Vladimir Kolobkov, who died after a heat-stroke-induced heart-failure, is still on board. However, sources very close to the negotiations maintain that the stumbling-block to the final arrangements is persisting on the side of the captors, who - being permanently influenced by various sides - appear again confused and indecisive and have not allowed for the necessary steps to a safe release take place.

Meanwhile it has transpired that Ukraine's military might is damaged by selling armament to Georgia and elsewhere below the market price, according to the parliament's investigating body.

"Arms were being supplied for less than fair value, and even that cash wasn't reaching the country's coffers," said Valery Konovalyuk, the director of the investigation commission of the Ukraine's Supreme Rada (parliament), the news agency Russia Today reported.

Kiev has been accused of secretly stuffing Tbilisi's arms caches with the weapons prior to and immediately after Georgia's attack on South Ossetia in southern Caucasus. The Party of the Regions, Ukraine's pro-Russian opposition party, lobbied for the creation of a fact-finding body to investigate the allegations.

The party has been a vocal critic of Kiev for supporting the Georgian invasion, which 'forced' a stiff response from Russia. Konovalyuk, who heads the fact-finding investigation, said that over four years, USD 2.5 billion worth of weaponry and ammunition were shipped to Georgia, but the Ukraine government has only received USD 200 million. “The money was laundered through short-lived stooge firms,” the official said.

The practice went on for years thanks to the involvement of President Viktor Yushchenko who had "forced those officials to take steps" in violation of the Ukrainian legislation. The president is also accused of allegedly depriving the country of the much-needed weaponry, to provide arms for Georgia. The commission has also asked permission for looking into the large-scale arms shipment by the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina which was intercepted by the Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa in September.

“We are on the verge of a huge political scandal that could have immense political repercussions,” Konovalyuk was earlier quoted by The New York Times as saying on the matter.

Source: Ecoterra International




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