MOGADISHU, November 30 – Somali pirates said Sunday that a deal for the release of an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo ship that they seized more than two months ago has been reached and that the release was expected within days.
"It is just a matter of time and a few technicalities before the ship recovers its freedom," Sugule Ali, the spokesman for the group of pirates holding the MV Faina told AFP by phone from the ship.
"I can’t tell you what the ransom is but what can I say is that an agreement has finally been reached," he added.
The pirate chief explained that he and his group still had to finalise the modalities of their escape and the ransom payment.
"Within four days, we must leave the ship and we are preparing for the safe landing of our group," he said. "We have no doubt this problem will be resolved and I hope the owners will honour the last remaining points."
"Our members are very tired and the crew are also very tired. We all want this matter to be resolved," he said.
The US military has overflown the hijacked vessel several times to take pictures of the crew lined up on the bridge and verify that all were in good health.
"We were very lenient during the discussions because the community in the area was putting pressure on us to release the ship, especially the elders," Sugule Ali explained.
The MV Faina was anchored a few miles off the coast of the pirate lair of Harardhere, north of Mogadishu, and moved several times.
On Tuesday, Sugule Ali said the ransom demanded had been lowered to three million dollars from the 35 million initially demanded in the immediate aftermath of the freighter’s September 25 capture.
The Ukrainian ship — headed for Kenya when it was seized — was carrying a cargo that included 33 Soviet-type battle tanks, rocket launchers and ammunition. There were 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian on board.
The capture of the ship triggered a controversy over its cargo’s final destination.
Kenya has insisted it was the intended recipient of the arms but maritime officials and diplomatic sources in the region have said the government of semi-autonomous southern Sudan was the destination.