Faina has been freed
As the result of an operation involving special-services agents
Ukraine`s president said a ship held by pirates off the coast of Somalia since September has been freed.
The brief statement by the office of President Viktor Yushchenko came a day after reports that a ransom had been paid to the pirates holding the MV Faina. The statement didn`t refer to a ransom, but said the ship was freed as the result of an operation involving special-services agents from Ukraine. The Faina is loaded with military tanks and weapons.
Somali pirates began leaving the ship after receiving a ransom, one of the pirates said. The U.S. Navy said it appeared the ransom was dropped Wednesday.
Fourteen gunmen and the pirates` commander disembarked from the Faina, which has been held by the pirates for five months, said Aden Abdi Omar, one of those who left the ship. Mr. Omar spoke to the Associated Press by satellite phone from the central Somali coastal town of Harardhere, near to where the Faina is anchored.
"We have all indications that a ransom was paid regarding Faina," Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said.
Mr. Christensen said U.S. Navy ships, monitoring the Ukrainian arms ship, "saw something that could be a ransom, dropped on the ship on Wednesday." Mr. Christensen did not want to elaborate, but added that U.S. ships continue to watch the Faina.
Mr. Omar said two boats have been sent to collect more than two dozen other pirates still on board. He said he would give more details later.
Hours earlier Mikhail Voitenko, a spokesman for the ship`s owner, said the pirates had received a ransom on Wednesday. He didn`t say how much was paid, but Russia`s ITAR-Tass news agency put the amount at $3.2 million. The pirates originally demanded $20 million.
The Faina, carrying a cargo of tanks, other weaponry and about 20 mostly Ukrainian crew members, was seized by bandits in September off the Somali coast. Ships of the U.S. Navy`s 5th Fleet have surrounded it to be sure the cargo doesn`t get into the hands of Somali insurgent groups linked to al Qaeda.
The seizure of the Faina was one of the most daring attacks by Somali pirates in recent years. Last year Somalia became the global piracy hotspot with 111 attacks on ships reported, and 42 of them being seized.
Somalia doesn`t have a coast guard or navy because it hasn`t 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.