Ukrainian ship carrying tanks seized by pirates
A Ukrainian ship captured by Somali pirates en route to Somalia is carrying at least 30 tanks, a regional maritime organisation said today.
Ukrainian news agency Interfax-Ukraine also said the ship, operating under a Belize flag, had a military cargo "including about 30 T-72 tanks".
That would be a significant and potentially dangerous seizure in Somalia, where Islamist insurgents have been battling the government and its Ethiopian military allies for nearly two years.
Although the subject of a UN arms embargo, the Horn of Africa nation is awash with arms. Reports that tanks had been taken by pirates also raised questions about their original planned destination.
"Some say it was carrying about 38 tanks, others say 30," said Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme.
"In the past, military equipment has come through Mombasa on its way to south Sudan, but we have not seen any south Sudanese officials at the port waiting. And anyway, there is an arms embargo for Sudan."
A statement from Ukraine's foreign ministry identified the vessel as the Faina, but made no reference to its cargo.
The statement quoted the ship's operators as saying 17 of 21 crew members, including the captain, were Ukrainian nationals, with the remainder from Russia and Latvia.
Heavily armed pirates have seized more than 30 vessels off Somalia so far this year, making its waters the most dangerous in the world. The gangs seek, and often get, large ransoms.
Many of the seizures have been in the Gulf of Aden, a major sea artery used by some 20,000 vessels a year heading to and from the Suez Canal.
Pirates are holding about a dozen vessels and more than 200 crew members at the moment. Their business has flourished as an Islamist-led insurgency on shore has deepened. Somalia has been in civil conflict since 1991.