Information leak allowed Faina seizure

As the crew of the released cargo ship Faina has arrived in Ukraine, scandalous details concerning the alleged information leak have surfaced.

Russian daily Kommersant reports pirates received a phone call from the Ukrainian port of Odessa prior to the capture. The phone number, though, belongs to a Georgian cell operator, Ukrainian security services told Kommersant under the condition of anonymity. They also said that pirates got $US 4 million in ransom instead of $US 3.2 million reported earlier.

According to the paper, information leaks occurred in the course of the four months of Faina’s captivity and were from a high-ranking source.

Kommersant also reports there were attempts by foreign intelligence to protract release talks in order to squeeze Ukraine from the African weapons market. A document the daily managed to get hold of does not specify the countries, but its unnamed source claims Russian security services were involved.

The intervention of Ukraine’s political parties allegedly hampered the talks with the pirates. Originally they demanded $US 2 million, but when the ransom was raised pirates were informed that the Ukrainian authorities were ready to pay more and the deal failed.

Faina, carrying 33 tanks, grenade launchers and a large amount of ammunition onboard, was captured on September 25, 2008 in the Indian Ocean. On February 3 a ransom was paid and the ship freed. On Thursday it reached the Kenyan port of Mombassa from where the crew was then flown to the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

Back home and happy

The relatives of the Faina’s crew came to meet their loved ones at Kiev airport.

Aleksey, who was the chief engineer onboard the Ukrainian cargo vessel, says he doesn’t feel well, but is happy the ordeal is over.

“The pirates locked us all in one cabin with no drinking water, and turned off the air conditioning. The heat outdoors was up to 45 degrees Celsius. They sometimes didn’t allow us to lie down,” says Aleksey Harhalup.

There was no attempt made to catch the bandits, because it was feared that could have jeopardised the lives of more than a hundred other seamen who’re now being held by pirates onboard other ships in Somali waters.

As for Faina’s cargo, it was officially intended for Kenya but some intelligence reports suggested its real destination could have been Southern Sudan.

If proven true, this could trigger an international scandal as it would appear Ukraine was involved in illegal arms trade in a region which is under a UN arms embargo. The crew of the ship says they know nothing about the cargo controversy.

“I’m an engineer. My job is to carry the cargo from point A to point B. I know nothing about that,” Aleksey Harhalup says.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials deny all allegations of illegal arms trade. They also deny the speculation that a high ranking Ukrainian government official leaked information to the pirates.

The country’s president Viktor Yushchenko promised the seamen compensation of around $US 150,000, but for the crew the president’s speech at the airport was the least interesting part of their arrival.

“Honestly, I was more craving to see my mom at that moment. I didn’t really care about the president,” says Vitaly Shelestov from the Faina crew.

It’s a happy ending for the families of all the Faina’s crew but one – the family of its Russian captain, Vladimir Kolobkov. He died of a heart attack shortly after the vessel was seized by pirates.