Watchdog urges release of Somali piracy source

International media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) called on Tuesday for the release of a Kenyan arrested for giving “alarming” information about the hijacking of a ship off Somalia.

Andrew Mwangura, whose East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme monitors hijackings in the region and provides information to media, was jailed last week and charged with both “causing alarming publications” and possessing $3 worth of marijuana.

Mwangura had said tanks and other weapons on board a Ukrainian ship hijacked off Somalia were bound for South Sudan, and not Kenya as Nairobi says.

That embarrassed Kenya, which helped to broker a 2005 north-south peace pact in Sudan.

“Several different statements have been made to back up this claim, including that of Nathan Christensen, spokesperson for the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain,” the Paris-based RSF said, urging Mwangura’s immediate release.

“Mwangura received a prize in 2006 from the Chamber of International Commerce ... for his work in defence of sailors and particularly against murder and piracy in East Africa. He has helped obtain the release of several sailors taken hostage.”

Mwangura says he gets his information from families of hostages and pirates, plus international maritime groups.
But Kenya’s government has accused him of being a mouthpiece for the pirates, saying he has suspiciously close ties with them.

The Ukrainian vessel, MV Faina, lies off south Somalia, closely watched by several US naval boats.

Its capture in September was the most high-profile of a rash of such seizures off Somalia in recent weeks. The nearby Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes are already among the world’s most dangerous and costly to insure for shipping.

The pirates have demanded a $20-million ransom to release the MV Faina and its 20-member crew. Other gangs are holding about a dozen ships with about 200 crew members.—Reuters

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