Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ukrainain ship MV Faina and its T-72 tanks finally released

MV Faina (Getty Images photo)

After receiving preliminary word from sources in East Africa this afternoon, it can now be confirmed that the MV Faina has been released after Somali pirates received a reported $3.2 million ransom. The vessel, including a crew of 20 mariners (Ukrainian, Russian and Latvian) and its cargo, which includes 33 T-72 main battle tanks and other weaponry and munitions, is reported by Voice of America to be in the Gulf of Aden, where the pirates are "counting and dividing up the money". The vessel was previously being sequestered in the eastern Somali port of Haradhere, which is on the Indian Ocean, so no word on how it managed to get so far north without any action on the part of the various naval elements that have been watching the Faina up till now.

As I've previously reported, there have been concerns raised about the health of the freighter's crew. I'm sure we'll know more in the next few days as to the veracity of those earlier reports. Meanwhile, the true destination of the Faina's cargo remains a mystery. Were the weapons and munitions truly destined for the Kenyan military or were they intended for rebels in southern Sudan? Kenyan piracy expert Andrew Mwangura, one of the first to report that the cargo was not intended for his homeland's military, may find the answer to this question of particular note, as he remains under a judicial cloud as a result of this incident.

Mwangura told me today that he attended court in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa earlier in the day, part of the ongoing efforts to prosecute him for "making alarming statements to foreign media touching on the security of the country." However, the prosecution witness called today could not provide a copy of warrant for Mwangura's arrest, so the case will next be heard on March 4.

It should be noted that since the United States and Britain have agreed to allow Kenya to prosecute any suspected pirates captured by their forces, the case against Andrew Mwangura bears some importance. As Western democracies, we pride ourselves on the rule of justice, and though it may be flawed at times, I like to believe that we would never judicially pursue an individual just because they spoke their word. Should the case against Andrew Mwangura prove fruitless - as I believe it will - what does that say about the degree of accountability we would expect when suspected maritime criminals come before a Kenyan court? The shadow of Guantanimo may yet cloud this picture.

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