Somali pirates holding a Greek-owned vessel since May said a 2.5-million-dollar ransom was finally paid Thursday and the MV Ariana and its crew of 24 Ukrainians would be freed shortly.
"The deal is now complete, the ransom money was delivered to us early this morning and the ship will be released within minutes," Mohamed Ilkaase, a member of the pirate gang holding the MV Ariana, told AFP by phone from the coastal town of Hobyo.
The Maltese-flagged vessel was seized on May 2 en route from the Middle East to Brazil with 10,000 tonnes of soya beans and was one of the longest-running hostage situations off the coast of Somalia.
"This ship had been in our hands for some time now and there had been disagreements over the ransom in recent weeks," Ilkaase said. "But finally, we agreed to a ransom of 2.5 million dollars to free the ship."
Abdi Yare, a pirate leader based in the neighbouring pirate lair of Harardhere, confirmed information that the MV Ariana's release was imminent.
"That ship will be released this morning, the ransom money was paid this morning at 6:00 am (0300 GMT)," he said.
Another pirate had announced on November 26 that the ship was being released for 3.7 million dollars but last-minute snags emerged over the ransom and the pirates held on to
the vessel and its crew.
The ship is owned by the Athens-based All Ocean Shipping Company, which is in turn owned by a British conglomerate. Neither immediately confirmed the release of the MV Ariana.
Somali pirates are also currently holding a Greek-flagged vessel, the 330-metre crude carrier Marav Centaurus, which was hijacked on November 29 with a crew of 16 Filipinos, nine Greeks, two Ukrainians and a Romanian.