The MV Faina, a Belize flagged but Ukrainian-operated roll-on, roll-off (RO-RO) vessel carrying ammunition as well as 33 T72 main battle tanks is expected to dock in Mombasa, Kenya, tomorrow.
The Daily Nation newspaper reports from there the Kenyan Navy has put to sea a patrol ship to escort the Faina to port.
A US 5th Fleet media statement says pirates released the ship on Thursday after holding it and its crew hostage for four months.
Sailors from the destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) went aboard Faina on Friday provide the crew food and medical support. The US Navy fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168) also provided fuel and fresh water to the merchant vessel.
Because of its cargo US Navy ships remained within visual range of the ship from shortly after its capture on 25 September.
The ship’s captain reportedly suffered a heart attack shortly after being taken hostage. The pirates refused all requests to turn over his remains. The ship’s remaining crew includes 17 Ukrainian citizens, as well as two Russians and one Latvian.
The ship was released after the payment of aUS$3.5 million ransom. The Daily Nation further reports that there have been allegations that the arms aboard the Faina were intended for the government of Southern Sudan, but Kenya has claimed the weapons and the Sudanese have denied that the shipment is theirs. Sudan is under a United Nations arms embargo.
Meanwhile, the 5th Fleet also reports that the Aegis cruiser, USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) has become the flagship of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, a multinational task force conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.
The amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio (LPD 17) assumed the role in January and served as the flagship for Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, commander, CTF 151, before the admiral transferred his flag and staff to the guided-missile cruiser.
“We are very strong in developing and maintaining a recognized maritime picture (RMP) because of our training during workups as the Iwo Jima Amphibious Readiness Group Sea Combat Commander, and we will be able to use this experience during the counter-piracy mission,” said Capt. Mark Genung, Vella Gulf’s commanding officer.
He added that the air detachment on board which flies the SH-60B helicopter brings an “unparalleled” organic capability to detect and identify potential pirate ships and skiffs beyond the line of sight of the ship.
“On board Vella Gulf I have significant radar, [signal intelligence] and electro-optical capabilities that, coupled with my SH-60B, provide Admiral McKnight the best possible RMP. We’re also capable of providing a broad spectrum of kinetic and non-kinetic options to CTF 151.”
The US Navy notes that although pirate activity has fallen in reply to an international response to the scourge, eight ships and nearly 150 merchant mariners are still being held hostage by Somali pirates.