Freed Ship Sails Away From Somalia

APA U.S. Navy boat providing fuel and fresh water to the Faina on Friday, a day after its release by Somali pirates.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- A Ukrainian cargo ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons was sailing Sunday for Kenya with a U.S. military escort, leaving the Somali coast where pirates had held it for more than four months.

MV Faina was heading for the port of Mombasa under its own power, Vadim Alperin, the ship's owner, said in a statement posted on a Russian maritime web site. It was being escorted by the guided missile destroyer USS Mason, and U.S. Navy commandos were on board the Faina to provide security, he said.

Commander Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, confirmed that the Navy was escorting the Faina, but gave no details.

The U.S. Navy has watched over the Faina since its Sept. 25 capture by Somali pirates to make sure its cargo of 33 tanks and weapons did not fall into the hands of Somali insurgents believed to be linked to al-Qaida. The Faina and its 20-member crew were freed Thursday after pirates received an airdropped ransom of $3.2 million.

The ship began moving late Friday after it received fuel from the USS Catawba and the crew got a diesel generator going, switched on navigation and other equipment and put the main engine in working order, the statement said. It said the Faina's crew had been given a five-day supply of food and water, as well as fresh sheets.

"We are on the way. Faina is cruising to Mombasa," Captain Viktor Nikolsky said via a satellite phone Saturday.

He estimated that the trip would take three to four days.

"The crew are healthy and eagerly looking forward to returning home," Alperin said in a separate statement Saturday.

U.S. Navy representatives and Faina crew members inspected the arms cargo, said the ship's owner and the U.S. Navy spokeswoman.

"We know that none of the tanks were offloaded," Campbell said.

The ship's owner said the cargo was found undamaged.

There is some dispute over who actually owns the cargo. Diplomats said it was destined for southern Sudan, which the autonomous region has denied. The Kenyan government insists that the cargo is for Kenya.

Analysts said the Faina's seizure was a wake-up call about the danger that piracy posed to one of the world's most important shipping routes.

Warships from Russia, the United States, India, Britain, France, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have since joined an anti-piracy campaign, though attacks continue.

Somalia does not have a coast guard or navy because it has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, reducing the Horn of Africa nation to anarchy and chaos.