NAIROBI, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Controversy is looming over seized Ukrainian vessel carrying military equipment with fresh reports indicating that the arsenal was destined for south Sudan and not the Kenyan military.
Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program said on Sunday the Somali pirates claim to be in possession of confidential documents showing that the arms were actually destined for southern Sudan and not Kenya.
Mwangura said that the hijacked ship-MV Faina was ferrying the fourth such consignment from Ukrainian to southern Sudan.
"One of the cargo arrived at the port of Mombasa in October last year, two in February this year. The seized load of 33 Russian-built T-72 tanks and some ammunition was the fourth cargo with military equipment for southern Sudan," Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone on Sunday.
Mwangura's statement came as heavily armed U.S. vessel is monitoring a Ukranian cargo ship hijacked by pirates in Somalia, to ensure they do not remove tanks, ammunition and weapons on board.
A man claiming to be a spokesman for the pirates said they now want 20 million U.S. dollars to free the cargo ship Faina.
"The pirates are saying that if they are not going to be paid the ransom, they will spill the beans. Maybe they are going to say what is happening in this region because we understand South Sudan is under a United Nations arms embargo and why Kenya allowing the military equipment to pass through Kenyan waters is not known," Mwangura said.
The latest hijackings are part of a surge of daring maritime attacks off the coast of Somalia, a war-torn country that has been without a functioning government since 1991.
The Kenyan government said on Friday that the Ukrainian vessel that was hijacked by Somali pirates off Somali coast is carrying military equipment destined for the East African nation.
A statement from the government Spokesman Alfred Mutua said the Belize-flagged Faina vessel was carrying an authorized Ukrainian government arms shipment for the Kenyan government to be used by the military in the country.
A U.S. defence official said the destroyer USS Howard is within a few thousand yards of the Faina. T he hijacked ship is anchored a few kilometres off the Somalia coast and the pirates have lowered their ransom demands from 35 million dollars to 20 million dollars.
The pirates also warned against any attempt to rescue the crew or cargo of the ship.
Mutua said the east African nation would not negotiate with what it called international criminals, pirates and terrorists, and said efforts to recover the hijacked ship and its cargo would continue.
"The Kenyan government, together with its security partners, has established that the ship has not yet docked at any port and is still at sea," the statement said.
"However, it should be noted that because the ship had not yet docked at Mombassa, the responsibility of the insured cargo rests with the shipper," said Mutua in a statement.
Ukraine's foreign ministry said the ship had a crew of 21 and was sailing towards the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
Authorities in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland said they are powerless to confront the pirates, who regularly hold ships for ransom at the port of Eyl.
There were reports that at least 100 pirates from the dreaded Somalia Youth Coast Guard were in control of the Faina, which is sailing under a Belize flag.
The ship's captain is said to have contacted a merchant marine call center where he described the pirates before communication was cut off.
Pirates have seized dozens of ships near Somalia's coast in recent months. A Russian Navy vessel is heading to the region and the United States has said it is monitoring developments in the area.