The Faina will set a course for Kenya on Friday morning, Mykola Malomuzh said at a briefing, confirming reports that all of the 65 pirates that had been on board the hijacked vessel left on Thursday having divvied up the $3.2 million ransom.
He added that a U.S. Navy frigate has already approached the Faina to refuel it, and the cargo ship's acting captain would attempt to start her engines on Friday morning. The ship is expected to reach the Kenyan port of Mombasa in four to six days.
"We hope that tomorrow morning we will put out under the escort of the U.S. Navy," he was quoted by Ukraine's UNIAN news agency as saying.
The Faina, with a crew of 17 Ukrainians, three Russians and one Latvian, was hijacked off the Horn of Africa on September 25, 2008. The vessel's Russian captain died of a heart attack soon after the hijacking.
The pirates initially demanded a $35 million ransom for the vessel, which was carrying 33 T-72 tanks and other heavy weaponry.
Malomuzh said Kenya's defense minister and the head of its general staff were awaiting the Faina's arrival, along with Ukraine's Ukrspetseksport company, which was exporting the arms to Kenya. They will oversee the process of transferring the military cargo to the Kenyan authorities.
He also said that the body of the deceased Russian captain, Vladimir Kolobkov, would be received by the Russian Consulate in Nairobi and sent home.
According to the UN, Somali pirates carried out at least 120 attacks on ships in 2008, resulting in a yield of around $150 million.
Up to 20 warships from the navies of at least 10 countries, including Russia, are involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia. The East African country, ravaged by years of civil war, has no functioning government.