Russia sends ship to Somali coast to fight piracy

Looks like things are heating up a bit off the Horn of Africa…

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s navy dispatched a warship to Somalia’s coast, officials said Friday, a day after pirates seized a Ukrainian vessel carrying Russian and Ukranian crew and loaded with 33 tanks and ammunition bound for Kenya.

Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said in a statement that the frigate Neustrashimy left the Russia’s Baltic port of Baltiisk on Wednesday. The statement did not specifically mention the seizure of the Ukrainian ship, which happened Thursday.

Dygalo did not answer calls that The Associated Press made to his cell phone later Friday.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov, meanwhile, said that the ship, the Faina, was carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. Yekhanurov said the tanks were sold in accordance with international law, according to Larisa Mudrak, a spokeswoman for Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

A Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, confirmed that the East African nation’s military had ordered the tanks and spare parts, but he did not provide any more details.

“The government is in contact with international maritime agencies and other security partners in an endeavor to secure the ship and cargo,” Mutua said in a statement. “The government is actively monitoring the situation.”

A person who answered the phone at Ukrainian state-controlled arms dealer Ukrspetsexport, which brokered the sale, refused to comment about the Ukrainian vessel, and said all requests for information must be submitted in writing.

Ukrainian officials and an anti-piracy watchdog said 21 crew members were aboard the seized ship, and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the crew included three Russians.

Mikhail Voitenko, editor-in-chief of the journal “Naval Bulletin-Sovfrakht” said in televised comments that the ship sailed under a Belize flag and the operator is a Ukrainian company based in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Friday that the U.S. is monitoring the situation, noting that the military has assisted foreign countries in previous instances of piracy.

“I think we’re looking at the full range of options here,” said Whitman. “A ship carrying cargo of that nature being hijacked off the coast of Somalia is something that should concern us, and it does concern us. And we are monitoring the situation and taking a look at what the options might be.”

Roger Middleton, a researcher at London’s Chatham House, said it was unlikely the pirates knew there were tanks aboard the Faina, and he said unloading the cargo would be very difficult.

“Most of their attacks are based on opportunity. So if they see something that looks attackable and looks captureable, they’ll attack it,” he told AP.

“I’m not sure how helpful such a high-profile cargo will be for them. It makes them much more vulnerable,” he said. “I’d imagine they’re quite worried.”

Dygalo said Russia’s navy would periodically send ships to piracy prone areas to protect Russian citizens and Russian ships. He said the frigate set sail on Wednesday “with the aim of providing for a naval presence in a number of oceans and sea regions.”

According to the British-based Jane’s Information Group, the Neustrashimy is armed with surface-to-air missiles, 100 mm guns and anti-submarine torpedoes.

Yushchenko, meanwhile, ordered unspecified measures to secure the release of the crew.

The hijacking brings the number of attacks off Somalia to 61 this year, and pirates are now holding 14 ships and more than 300 crew members, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center based in Malaysia.

Middleton said it was unclear how the pirates might react if confronted by military action, noting that they have fled from authorities in the past. On the other hand, he said, they are usually well-armed and organized and are based in an unstable country — Somalia.

“It could potentially get pretty messy,” he said.

Associated Press writers Olga Bondaruk in Kiev, Jennifer Quinn in London, Tom Malitti in Nairobi and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Neustrashimy class frigate: These ships are the most modern large Frigates in the Russian Navy, and were designed as a general/purpose ASW Frigate to follow on from the Krivak class Frigates. This group of Frigates incorporates some stealth technology. The program started in 1986 and seven ships were originally planned, but only one ship, The Neustrashimy (Indomitable or Fearless), is in service – with the Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet.

How much do you want to bet that there are also some Naval Spetsnaz troops on board?

  • 4 INDEP SPETZNAZ PT Parusnoe (Baltyysk) (Baltic Fleet) formerly Viljandi, Estonia (transferred from Army GRU to Navy GRU)


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