NAIROBI, KENYA — Somali pirates released a Ukrainian freighter carrying heavy arms Thursday and sped away with a $3.2-million ransom as U.S. Navy ships watched, ending a four-month standoff that focused world attention on piracy off Somalia's lawless coast.
The Navy said it couldn't seize the bandits for fear of endangering 147 seamen held hostage on other hijacked ships.
Pirate Aden Abdi Omar said by satellite phone from the central Somali town of Harardhere that more than two dozen pirates escaped on motorboats with the ransom, which had been airdropped to them a day earlier.
The seizure of the Faina, loaded with Soviet-era tanks and other heavy weapons, was one of the most brazen in a surge of pirate attacks off Somalia. Vessels from the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet quickly surrounded the cargo ship after it was seized Sept. 25 to make sure the arms on board did not get into the hands of Somali insurgents believed to have links to Al Qaeda.
The hijacking brought an unprecedented naval response. Warships from countries including the U.S., India, Britain, France, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have joined the anti-piracy campaign, though attacks continue. Turkey's government announced plans Thursday to send naval ships to join the mission.