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Ship released 6 months after hijacking

By Christine Theodorou, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Greek ship Ariana was hijacked off Somali coast more than six months ago
  • Owners say ransom paid for release of ship and 24 Ukrainian crew
  • Ship heading to a port in either Oman or the United Arab Emirates

(CNN) -- The owners of the Greek ship Ariana, hijacked more than six months ago off the coast of Somalia, said Thursday it has been released.

A ransom was paid for the ship's release and all 24 Ukrainian crew members are in good condition, according to Spiros Minas, head of Alloceans Shipping Company Ltd. , the owner of the ship. He would not elaborate on the amount paid for their release citing a concern for other crews still held by Somali pirates.

"We are happy. We care about our crew, and they can now return home. They have been tormented -- and releasing them was our main objective," said Minas, speaking from Athens.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko welcomed the successful completion of the operation to free the 24 Ukrainian crewmembers who have been held since May 2.

"We had an extremely difficult situation -- indeed, the theme of liberation very often came to a standstill. The question remained permanently under my control. I gave the appropriate instructions to the special services in Ukraine, the Foreign Intelligence Service to develop a number of scenarios that would be provided, together with other international partners, regarding the release of the Ukrainian seamen," he said on his Web site.

"Now we are witnessing the completion of this operation. The Ukrainian sailors are freed. I congratulate 24 of our guys, congratulate their families, all of Ukraine with this victory" said Yushchenko.

Yuschenko said he has given instructions to ensure safe delivery of seafarers to the nearest port, as well as the provision of appropriate medical and legal assistance in order to return the crewmembers to their homeland.

"In the near future (in) Ukrainian aircraft they will be delivered to Ukraine. I congratulate the nation, I congratulate the families on the successful completion of the operation to release our sailors," he said.

A spokeswoman from the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry said that three naval escorts are with the Ariana.

The ship was released at approximately 13:30GMT (8:30 a.m. ET) on Thursday and will be heading to a port in either Oman or the United Arab Emirates

The Ariana is owned by the Alloceans Shipping Company Ltd based in Athens.

CNN's Mike Sefanov from Moscow contributed to this report.