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Pirates free ship after ransom paid

A MERCHANT ship carrying tanks and weapons held by pirates off the coast of Somalia since last September has been freed, Ukraine's president announced yesterday.

A spokesman for the owners of the MV Faina said on Wednesday that a ransom was paid to the pirates. The brief statement from the office of President Viktor Yushchenko did not 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 hardware and there had been fears the arms would fall into the hands of al-Qaida-backed Somali insurgents.

Presidential spokeswoman Irina Vannikova was quoted as telling Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency that "the ship is now under the guard of forces of the United States' Navy and is preparing to head for the Kenyan port of Mombasa."

One of the pirates told The Associated Press by satellite telephone that some of the pirates remained on board.

"We are not holding it (the ship) now anymore," said Aden Abdi Omar, one of those who left the ship. "But our men should disembark first for it to move to wherever it wants."

The US Navy said it appeared the ransom was handed over on Wednesday.

Ther ITAR-Tass news agency estimated that the ransom was worth US$3.2 million. The pirates had originally demanded US$20 million.


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