NAIROBI, Kenya – The U.S. Navy on Friday fueled a Ukrainian merchant ship carrying tanks and other heavy weapons that had been held by pirates for more than four months and gave food and water to the freed crew before its journey to Kenya, a spokesman said.
MV Faina has been at sea since it was seized in September and had not had a chance to refuel. The ship remained anchored near the Somali coastal town of Hobyo after pirates released it Thursday evening after receiving a $3.2 million ransom, which they said was dropped by plane.
U.S. Navy personnel gave all crew members medical attention, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet.
The navy has watched over the Faina since its capture, to make sure the cargo of 33 tanks and other heavy weapons destined for Mombasa, Kenya, did not get into the hands of Somali insurgent groups believed to be linked to al-Qaida.
Faina Captain Viktor Nikolsky told The Associated Press via satellite phone on Friday that the ship would start traveling to the port of Mombasa on Saturday.
"Engineering preparations are ongoing to get the vessel under way," said Christensen. He said about 12 U.S. sailors from USS Mason, a guided missile destroyer, boarded the Faina on Friday morning to inspect it and provide the crew with food, water and medical attention.
"Also, the USS Catawba is providing the vessel with fuel," said Christensen. He said "the crew is in good health, but getting medical attention they requested," but declined to elaborate.
Ukraine's top human rights official, Nina Karpachova, said Friday the Faina crew will test the engine and later in the day determine whether it can sail under its own power. She also said a U.S. Navy ship will accompany it to Mombasa and officials are working to get a Kenyan naval ship to meet the Faina in Kenyan territorial waters.
"We will start our journey tomorrow (Saturday) morning," said Nikolsky. "We will approximately reach there (Mombasa) in three or four days."
The Faina was headed to Mombasa before it was hijacked. There is controversy over who the actual owners of the weapons cargo are. Diplomats in the region previously have said the cargo was destined for southern Sudan, something the autonomous region has denied. Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua repeated Kenya's claim to the cargo Thursday.
Analysts said the seizure of the Faina and its cargo of weapons was a wake-up call about the danger that piracy posed to one of the world's most important trade routes.
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 Somalia to anarchy and chaos.
Turkey's military said Friday that it will dispatch a frigate to the Gulf of Aden to join the international fight against pirates off the shores of Somalia.