Somali pirates free Ukrainian ship

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The Independent Online

Somali pirates released a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks today following a ransom payment, a local man who helped negotiate the deal said.

The MV Faina was captured in September with its 20-man crew and a cargo of 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks plus other weapons. Its seizure drew international attention, not only for its military cargo, but for a regional row over the destination of the tanks.

"The last group of pirates has got down now and MV Faina is released," the negotiator, who asked not to be named, told Reuters from the Somali port of Haradheere.

The man told Reuters on Wednesday the pirates had been paid a ransom of $3.2m.

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, a Kenyan-based piracy monitoring group, said earlier that about 100 gunmen were aboard the vessel checking the ransom payment.

He could not confirm that they had all left the vessel.

"I have received no confirmation that all pirates are off the ship and its release final," he said. "Not until the last gunman disembarks do we consider it released."

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko welcomed the end of the protracted process to free the vessel and its crew.

"The 17 Ukrainian sailors will soon be able to see their loved ones on Ukrainian soil," a statement on his website said.

Kenya said it had bought the tanks for its army but foreign diplomats said the arms were bound for south Sudan - a potential embarrassment to Nairobi, which brokered a peace pact for the region on its northwestern border.

Somali pirates have captured three boats so far in 2009, after taking a record 42 last year in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean shipping lanes. Anarchy and an Islamist insurgency onshore have fuelled the upsurge of piracy.

In an unprecedented international response, more than 20 warships from 14 nations are patrolling to try to stop the gangs. Piracy has raised insurance costs and prompted some ship owners to send their vessels on longer routes around South Africa instead of via the Suez Canal.