KIEV, Ukraine — Pirates freed a Ukrainian cargo ship seized nearly 40 days ago off the coast of Somalia, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
The Panahia's 22 crew members were safe after being freed late Saturday, and by noon Sunday the ship was 90 miles (144 kilometers) away from Somalia's east coast, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It was not immediately clear if the US$700,000 (euro585,000) ransom demanded by the pirates had been paid, although earlier officials in Kiev had said the Ukrainian company was ready to pay. No one at the Foreign Ministry could be reached to comment Sunday afternoon.
The ship, owned by an unidentified company from Ukraine's southern city of Odessa, was sailing under a Liberian flag and was carrying iron ore from South Africa to Turkey when it was seized on Oct. 18.
The Foreign Ministry said the ship was escorted away from the Somali coast overnight by a French vessel, and the Defense Ministry expressed thanks to French officials for their assistance.
President Viktor Yushchenko also spoke by telephone with the ship's captain and wished them a safe journey back home, the Foreign Ministry said.
Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the troubled African country of 7 million. Many companies resort to paying ransoms, saying they have few alternatives.