Somali pirates free hijacked Ukrainian ship

The reported release of the freighter, carrying 33 tanks and other heavy weapons, closes a brazen chapter in the Somali piracy saga.

By , Staff writer

The US Navy, Ukrainian officials, and Somali pirates all told news sources today that more than four months after the MV Faina was captured, the pirates are at last freeing the ship. All for the low price of $3.2 million, according to pirate spokesman Sugule Ali, who spoke to the Associated Press by satellite phone. (Originally the group had demanded $20 million.)

The release of the MV Faina is a welcome close to one of the most brazen episodes in Somali piracy, which the Monitor has been tracking since at least 2005. In September, the Ukrainian freighter carrying 33 Russian T-72 tanks – as well as antiaircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades – was swarmed by speedboats and overtaken by pirates.

Though one of 70 or more captures last year, the incident particularly concerned foreign diplomats who were worried that the arms would be used to further destabilize Somalia. To read more about the sense of urgency surrounding that capture, click here.

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An international effort was launched to curb the piracy trend. With oil ships getting caught in the fray, any nation dependent on oil imports had reason to be concerned. We wrote a number of articles about the different parties getting involved:
The United Nations, the US and the European Union

India

China

Japan

Arab countries

Eye-patch and 'arrrgh's? Not so much.

So who are these pirates, anyway? Where do they come from, and what’s their motivation? The Monitor’s Africa bureau chief, Scott Baldauf, laid it out well in a must-read Q&A. Here’s an excerpt:

That financial incentive seems to have expanded lawlessness beyond Somalia’s land borders and into the waters off its coast – even hundreds of miles off its coast. In 2008 alone, at least 70 vessels were hijacked, and pirates extorted more than $150 million in ransom, reported Monitor foreign policy correspondent Howard LaFranchi in a recent article.

That, according to the Piracy Reporting Center (part of the International Maritime Bureau) makes the Gulf of Aden the most dangerous waterway on earth. But if piracy is so bad there, why do ships keep going through those waters? As Howard explained, the Gulf of Aden is an economic lifeline used for shipping a substantial portion of the world's oil.

Extra motivation now to stabilize Somalia
The upside to the piracy spree is that it’s spurred international efforts to address the lawlessness and instability that have plagued Somalia since 1991. You probably remember the movie Black Hawk Down, which popularized Clinton’s failure to address the problem in the 1990s. Well, it’s still a mess, as Scott explained in a look-ahead piece on Somalia in 2009:

We'll see.

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