A Greek shipowning company said it had paid a ransom to Somali pirates holding one of its freighters for the past seven months, and the ship's release was expected later Thursday.
Athens-based Alloceans Shipping declined to specify the sum paid, but a man claiming to be speaking for the pirates said it was $2.8 million.
The Maltese-flagged Ariana was seized May 1 southwest of the Seychelles islands, carrying a cargo of soya from Brazil to Iran.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said the Ariana's Ukrainian crew of 24 was released Thursday. "A Ukrainian plane will take them to Ukraine very soon," Yushchenko said in a statement.
Alloceans Shipping general manager Spyros Minas said the seamen were in good health.
"We are waiting for the pirates to leave the ship," Minas told The Associated Press. "We hope it will set sail today."
In the Somali coastal town of Hobyo, a self-proclaimed pirate who gave his name as Ahmed Gedi said his group had been paid $2.8 million to free the Ariana. It was not possible to independently verify the amount of ransom paid.
"After we check and count it, we will leave the ship and free it," Gedi told the AP on the phone.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said Thursday that pirates have released the 24 Ukrainian sailors from the ship Ariana help captive since May 2, 2009. "A Ukrainian plane will take them to Ukraine very soon," Yushchenko said in a statement.