29 September 2008

Somalia: Hijacked Arms - The Mystery Deepens

Photo: The East African
Military officers inspect tanks offloaded in Sudan (file photo).

Nairobi — Mystery deepened on Monday over the real ownership of the tanks and other arms hijacked by three boatloads of Somali pirates.

The Government insisted the battle tanks -- 33 T-72s -- rocket propelled grenades and 23 anti-aircraft guns plus ammunition, were destined for Kenya's military. But a US Navy spokesman stated categorically that the arms were heading to an unknown buyer in Sudan.

The spokesman, named as Lt Nathan Christensen, of the US Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: "We are aware that the actual cargo was destined for Sudan not Kenya."

However, Kenya's defence spokesman Bogita Ongeri dismissed the claim, saying, "It is the property of the Government of Kenya and we have documentation to that effect."

And on Monday night the Government released two documents, a bill of lading and a letter from the Ukranian exporter.

The bill of lading shows the consignee as the Ministry of Defence and the owner is Waterlux AG.

The cargo is shown as 33 T-72 tanks weighing 1.353 million kilogrammes, and another lot of 73 packed cargo containing T-72 tanks spare parts weighing 11,900 kilogrammes.

The letter from the State Self-Supporting Foreign Trade and Investment Firm Ukrinmash is signed by a director D. A. Peregudov informing the Kenyan government that the ship was seized on September 25, 2008.

And in a further puzzling twist, a piracy expert in Mombasa was gagged by the Coast PC.

Mr Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Programme, said on Monday that he was called by Coast PC Ernest Munyi and ordered not to give any information on the vessel to the media.

The pirates on Saturday claimed they had damning evidence to show that Kenya was not the end user of the military hardware aboard the hijacked ship and was, therefore, in breach of a United Nations arms embargo.

The Kenya Government spokesman, Dr Alfred Mutua on his website, however insisted that the pirates were terrorists bent on diverting attention.

"There have been alarming propaganda by the pirates to the media that the weapons are not for the Kenyan military. This is a tactic by the terrorists to try and fend off reprisals against them.

"The Kenyan government will not engage in answering back to terrorists who have hijacked important military equipment paid for by the Kenyan tax payer for use by the Kenyan military," Dr Mutua said.

Military sources, privy to the Kenyan defence policy and priority, however, insisted that the country has not sent any military personnel to Ukraine or Russia to be trained on operating the tanks or the ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns.

Sources within the military also cast doubt on the possibility of the cargo being Kenya's, arguing that the DoD procedures for acquiring military hardware had not been followed.

"Normally a sample accompanied by the seller is brought in for testing and a Kenyan military team is later sent to the producer country for training on maintenance before any decision is made. There has been no such arrangement between the Department of Defence and the Ukrainian government," the source said.

Sources added most DoD personnel only got the information about the military hardware supposedly intended for them when the story broke on Friday.

On Monday, Mr Mwangura claimed he was told the hijacking was a Government issue and the fact that he was not the official spokesman disqualified him from speaking to the Press.

Mr Mwangura had the previous day claimed the Ukrainian vessel cargo was destined for Southern Sudan, despite a UN arms embargo.


He said the shipment to the country through Kenya was not the first one but the fourth since last year.

However, Mr Munyi denied speaking to Mr Mwangura. "I have not spoken to him and if you insist tell him to prove that I spoke to him," said Mr Munyi when contacted.

Mr Mwangura had also asked why the Kenyan government was silent about a vessel carrying 17,000 tonnes of salt to Mombasa that was also allegedly hijacked on the same day as the Ukranian vessel.

"The vessel was suspicious because Kenya does not import salt," Mr Mwangura said.

In the mid 1990s, the Kenya police was forced to retain Ukrainian technicians in the country for over three years to maintain four M-17 helicopters and train pilots because they lacked technical know-how.

The sources further said DoD has been using British made Vicar tanks and another recently acquired Indian-made model.

Kenyan tank battalion officers have been trained in Britain and Kenya while another team is currently undergoing training in India on how to use the newly acquired tanks.

Meanwhile, Kenyan paramilitary officers are scheduled to be flown to the area where the hijacked Ukrainian ship is anchored for a reconnaissance operation.

The Ukrainian ship, mv Faina was seized by Somali pirates who are demanding ransom before releasing the ship and its cargo and the crew.

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