Another ship ferrying Kenya arms held in Angola seaport

Mar 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Media Release

A ship carrying anti-aircraft guns and ammunition that the crew claim belongs to Kenya’s military has been detained in Angola for the last twelve days.

But strangely, the arms from the US were being transported without any official documentation.

The US-flagged ship apparently left America carrying relief food and the arms, which it offloaded at several other ports on the western coast of Africa before docking at Lobito in Angola.

At Lobito it offloaded soybeans, but Angolan officials became suspicious of several containers on the ship, which the captain containers and found the weapons.

The Journal de Angola reported that the country’s national police intelligence service had detained the Maersk line ship after the arms were found on board.

“On investigation revealed that this cache of arms was destined for the armed forces of Kenya,” added the source quoted by the Angolan press.

On Sunday, Kenyan authorities said they could not comment on the issue, while others said they have insufficient information to speak on the matter.

When contacted, Defence Assistant Minister, David Musila, said he was not aware of the arms.

Military spokesman Bogita Ongeri said he could not confirm or deny whether the arms belonged to the Kenyan military.

“That is information that can be given by the shipping agent, and I cannot comment unless it [the shipment] reaches Mombasa for us to clear. For now I am unable to confirm or deny since all is with the shipping agent,” he added.

Defence Minister Yusuf Hajji and senior military officials could not be reached on phone.

But reports of the arms being held at sea brings back to memory the MV Faina saga in which Kenya was caught red-handed arming the Government of Southern Sudan.

In that case, pirates demanding millions in ransom seized the Ukrainian ship laden with anti-aircraft guns and tanks off the coast of Somalia.

While it became apparent that the Kenyan military was acting as a conduit for illegal arms meant for Southern Sudan, State officials continued claiming that the arsenal belonged to the Kenyan military.

Instances of illegal consignments of arms being discovered within the country have also been on the increase.

In 2010, a large cache of arms was seized in Narok town at a garage belonging to a Kenyan, sending panic and shockwaves in the country.

The owner of the garage was later arrested and charged in court, and his case is pending, while the arms and ammunition were impounded.

On the ship held in Angola, sources said the vessel had stopped at Dakar, Senegal to offload food items belonging to a non-governmental organisation in South Africa called Joint Aid Management.

No documentation

The containers with arms are four in number. The ship also had another 16 containers without documentation.

The Angolan media reported that 23 Americans were detained together with the captain, whose name was given as Stancil Jason.

The journal further said the ship was being detained at the port of Lobito for further clarification and other legal procedures

But on Sunday, the US television network CNN, based in Atlanta, Georgia reported that the US ship was allowed to proceed to Mombasa on Friday by the Angolan authorities.

CNN said the ship, Maersk Constellation, was carrying US food aid to several African nations, along with four containers of bullets “destined for a US-allied country under a US Department of State export license arranged by the shipper, a US company that is not affiliated to Maersk,” said a statement from Kevin Speers, senior director for Maersk Line Limited.

As the vessel arrived in Lobito to unload some of the food aid, “all the ship’s cargo was declared,” the shipping line said. “Twelve days later, Angolan authorities raised questions about the four containers on board and elected to detain the vessel until the documentation was verified.”

Local police said the ship, which was en route from Senegal to Kenya, was seized Monday when it docked in Lobito, according to journalist Jose Manuel Alberto.

According to the ship’s manifesto, it was carrying soybean for a South African non-governmental organisation working in Benguela, a city in western Angola, but authorities said they discovered that the soybeans in four of the containers covered a cache of guns, ammunition and rockets.

Local police said the captain had known of the ammunitions, which belong to Kenya’s Defence Ministry, but failed to declare them.

“On Wednesday evening local time, Angolan authorities informed the ship’s captain that the verification process was complete, the cargo will be returned to the vessel and Maersk Constellation will be permitted to proceed with its voyage,” said a statement released by the shipping line.

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