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Freed arms ship sails away from Somali coast

A Ukrainian cargo ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons sailed for Kenya with a US military escort, leaving the Somali coast where pirates had held it for more than four months.

world Updated: Feb 08, 2009 10:13 IST

A Ukrainian cargo ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons sailed on Saturday for Kenya with a US 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 US Navy commandoes were on board the Faina to provide security, he said.

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-man crew was 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," Capt. Viktor Nikolsky told The Associated Press via a satellite phone on Saturday. Earlier he estimated 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 on Saturday. According to the shipowner, US Navy representatives and Faina crew members who inspected the arms cargo found that it was not damaged and that it corresponded with the documentation. There is still some dispute over who the actual owners of the weapons cargo are. Diplomats have said the cargo was destined for southern Sudan, something the autonomous region has denied. The Kenyan government insists the cargo is for it.

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

In response, warships from the United States, India, Britain, France, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and South Korea all joined an anti-piracy campaign, although attacks still 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.