Somali pirates have agreed on a ransom for a Ukrainian freighter carrying tanks and other heavy weapons and it could be released within days, said Mikhail Voitenko, a spokesman for the owner, Vadim Alperin. The MV Faina could be freed, with its 20-man crew, if agreement is reached on how to get the ransom money to the pirates, who seized the ship off the coast of Somalia in late September, said Mr Voitenko, editor of Maritime Bulletin-Sovfrakht, a shipping news website.
Pirate attacks off Somalia have surged more than 75 per cent this year, and the seizure of the Faina raised particular concern because of its cargo of 33 tanks and other weapons and ammunition. Its Russian captain died days after the hijacking. Russia sent a missile destroyer to the region to protect other cargo vessels, and the Faina has been watched by US and other warships to prevent removal of its cargo, which authorities fear could get into the hands of Somali factions or be sold.
Mr Voitenko would not give the amount of the agreed ransom, but suggested it was far lower than the pirates' initial $20m (£13m) demand. He said the average ransom for hijacked ships was $1.5m to $1.8m and that the latest public demand he was aware of for the Faina was $3m.
A successful release of the ship, cargo and crew would signal to pirates that they cannot expect to sell or receive higher ransoms for valuable cargoes, Mr Voitenko said. Somali pirates seized the Sirius Star, a Saudi tanker carrying $100m worth of crude oil, on 15 November.
Piracy is considered the biggest moneymaker in Somalia, which has had no stable government for decades. A report by the London-based think-tank Chatham House said pirates raked in up to $30m in ransoms this year alone.
The US 5th Fleet said it has repelled about two dozen pirate attacks since 22 August in the Gulf.