A ransom has been delivered to Somali pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks, heavy weapons and about 20 crew members, a spokesman for the ship's owners said Wednesday.
Mikhail Voitenko did not say how much was paid, but Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency put it at $3.2 million. The pirates originally demanded $20 million.
The MV Faina — carrying a cargo of tanks, other weaponry and about 20 crew members — was seized by bandits in September off the Somali coast. The hostages include 17 Ukrainians, two Russians and a Latvian.
"The ransom has been delivered to the Faina. The owners of the ship so far don't want to comment on this, but I'm getting information on this just about every half-hour," Voitenko said in comments on Russian TV.
"A pile of pirates are counting the haul on the Faina. I hope that nothing will be disrupted and the sailors will soon be able to disembark."
Voitenko did not answer repeated phone calls seeking further comment.
A person involved in the negotiations said a plane carrying the ransom left Kenya's capital, Nairobi, on Wednesday afternoon and dropped it on the Faina. The man spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Normally Somali pirates take time to confirm their ransom, using money-counting machines and verifying the cash is genuine. Once they do that, they then release the vessel they are holding.
The person involved in the negotiations said the ship could be released Thursday. But the pirates holding the Faina have in the past given dates for releasing the vessel, only for those to pass without any word or explanation.
The seizure of the Faina was one of the most daring attacks by Somali pirates in recent years.
Last year saw Somalia become the global piracy hotspot with 111 attacks on ships reported and 42 vessels seized.
Somalia does not have a coast guard or navy because it has not had a functioning government since militant groups overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. They then turned on each other, reducing the country to chaos.