updated 2/1/2010 4:56:43 PM ET 2010-02-01T21:56:43

Somali pirates freed a Greek-owned cargo ship Monday and its 22-member crew held since November after receiving a ransom payment, officials in Greece said.

A coast guard statement said the Filitsa was heading for the Kenyan port of Mombasa along with its crew— three Greeks, 18 Filipinos and a Romanian. Officials said the crew members were all in good health.

The ship's owner, Order Shipping, confirmed that a ransom had been paid but refused to declare the sum.

The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was seized Nov. 11 in the Gulf of Aden, while carrying a cargo of fertilizer from Kuwait to the harbor of Durban in South Africa.

Pirates can often command multimillion dollar ransoms for the release of the vessels they capture, a fortune in impoverished Somalia. The failed state has not had a functioning government for a generation.

Despite patrols by a multinational naval force off Somalian waters, Somali pirates seized 47 vessels last year, and are holding about 200 crew members hostage.

Piracy experts said last week that most of the hijacked ships had ignored safety precautions, and at least a quarter of commercial ships navigating the dangerous Gulf of Aden continue to do so.

Self-protective measures, ranging from increased lookouts to zigzag maneuvers to the use of razor wire and fire pumps, have helped stave off several attacks.

The pirates usually seize the ships or the crews without harming them, and readily release them after ransom is paid.

But last month, two rival gangs fought over a reported $5.5 million payment to free a Greek-owned oil tanker. The pirates on the crude-laden Maran Centaurus called international forces for help, and two helicopters chased away the attackers who were seeking a cut of the ransom. The crew members were unharmed.

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