MOSCOW — A Russian warship on Friday rushed to intercept a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 battle tanks and ammunition that was seized by pirates off the Horn of Africa — a bold hijacking that heightened fears about the surging piracy and high-seas terrorism. Andrew Mwangura, who runs the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program, said the roll-on-roll-off cargo ship, the Faina, had been heading from the Baltic to discharge 2,320 tons of military hardware. The tanks could be unloaded without much trouble, all you would need is a docking area to drive the tanks off the Ro-Ro cargo ship Faina, (see Ro-Ro cargo ships).
The spike in attacks at sea has coincided with a rise in assaults on land by radical al-Shabaab insurgents, including the capture of Somalia's strategic southern port Kismayu. The United States say al-Shabaab is a terrorist group with close ties to al Qaeda. Experts say some of the businessmen and warlords who command the pirates are also funding the rebels. "The entire Somali coastline is now under control of the Islamists," Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told Reuters in an interview. "According to our information, the money they make from piracy and ransoms goes to support al-Shabaab activities onshore."
See Prior Post, Tuesday, August 26, 2008, GULF OF ADEN WARNING-UPSURGE IN PIRATE ACTIVITY OF AL-SHABAAB TERRORISTS, THEY USE TWO "MOTHER SHIPS" THE "BURUM OCEAN" AND THE "ARENA" OR "ATHENA"See Prior Post, Tuesday, August 26, 2008, Piracy ransoms funding Somalia insurgency, Al-Shabaab "Pirates" terror group behind recent 4 ships seized in 48 hours, Video.
See prior Post, Sunday, July 06, 2008. WHO ARE THE "SOMALI PIRATES" THAT ARE IN TOTAL DEFIANCE OF THE UN, ARE THEY FUNDING THE AL-SHABAAB TERROR GROUP ?
U.S. naval ships were in the area and "monitoring the situation," and a U.S. Defense Department official said Washington was concerned about the attack.
"I think we're looking at the full range of options here," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
It was unclear whether the pirates who seized the Faina Thursday knew ahead of time it was carrying 33 Russian-designed T-72 tanks, plus ammunition and spare parts, bound for Kenya. Analysts said it would be extremely difficult to sell such weaponry as Russian tanks. (Not for sale, they are going to use the tanks).
Kenyan maritime welfare activist Andrew Mwangura told The Associated Press that the hijacking of such cargo was unprecedented."This is a jackpot in the piracy world," he told AP.
The hijacking, with worldwide pirate attacks surging this year, could help rally stronger international support behind France, which has pushed aggressively for decisive action against Somali pirates.
Russian navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo told the AP that the missile frigate Neustrashimy left the Baltic Sea port of Baltiisk a day before the hijacking to cooperate with other unspecified countries in anti-piracy efforts.
But he said the ship was then ordered directly to the Somalia coast after Thursday's attack.
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.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Yury Yekhanurov said the Faina was carrying 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and a substantial quantity of ammunition and spare parts. He said the tanks were sold, in accordance with international law, to Kenya.
Lt. Nate Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet, told AP that U.S. vessels were aware of the seizure and said U.S. ships were "monitoring the situation," but refused to say more: "Obviously, we are deeply concerned."
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Whitman said the United States was worried about the ship's cargo.
"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," Whitman said. Paul Cornish, the head of the international security program at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, said the tanks would be difficult to sell on to a third party — private buyers or warlords, for example — because of the logistics involved with keeping them operational.
"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.
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.
The issue burst into international view on Sept. 15. when Somali pirates took two French citizens captive aboard a luxury yacht and helicopter-borne French commandoes then swooped in to rescue them.French President Nicolas Sarkozy this month called on other nations to move boldly against pirates, calling the phenomenon "a genuine industry of crime."