Pirate ordeal ends peacefully

28th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Crew of the fishing boat were freed unharmed after a ransom of EUR 1.2 million was paid to the kidnappers.

28 April 2008

MADRID - A day after the crew of the Playa de Bakio were released unharmed, reportedly following a ransom payment to the pirates,  the government's response to the seizure of a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of lawless Somalia was "cautious, sensible and responsible," José Antonio Alonso, the governing Socialist Party's spokesman in Congress, said Sunday.

The tuna-fishing vessel, which was boarded by men armed with grenade launchers on 20 April, headed for the Seychelles under the escort of a Spanish warship on Sunday.

The fishing boat's crew of 13 Spaniards and 13 Africans were freed shortly after 5pm on Saturday when the pirates abandoned the vessel for the Somali shore under the cover of darkness.

A local Somali official told Reuters that a ransom of EUR 1.2 million had been paid to the pirates by the ship's owner, although Spanish officials refused to confirm the report. The negotiations between the owner and the leader of the pirates had apparently been handled by a law firm in London.

"At 4pm they told us they would free us at sunset, but we didn't believe them," Gotzon Klemos, a Basque crewman, told El Pais by phone on Saturday night. "The release went peacefully but the time in captivity was terrifying. We were constantly afraid."

Klemos and other crew members who spoke to Spanish media said the pirates, who appeared to be waif thin from hunger, had generally treated them well. For most of their week-long ordeal, the crew had been kept confined to the galley or to their cabins, and when they were allowed out on deck the pirates kept machine guns trained on them constantly.

"We couldn't sleep. We spent all day reading, it was the only thing we could do," Klemos said.

Escorted by the frigate Méndez Núñez, the crew of the Playa de Bakio are expected to arrive in Victoria in the Seychelles by the end of this week from where they will fly home to relieved families waiting for them in Spain.
"I don't care if they paid a ransom or not... the important thing is that they're free," the daughter of Juan Pedro Sesma, a member of the crew, said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Socialist spokesman Alonso attributed the release to the coordinated "diplomatic efforts" of Spain and other countries.

Under the guard of Spanish special forces and local mercenaries, Nicolás Martín Cinto, the Spanish ambassador in Kenya, travelled to Mogadishu during the hostage crisis to coordinate with Somali officials.

Spain also received the assistance of French and US forces in the Indian Ocean, including aerial surveillance of the Playa de Bakio and the offer of military support should an armed rescue be required.

"Our priority was to preserve life," Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega said Saturday. She said Spanish intelligence services are working to track down the pirates, who apparently fled in rental cars after reaching the Somali coast near the town of El Hud.

Unlike France, which sent in commandos to capture the pirates and recover the ransom money after a French yacht was hijacked off Somalia earlier this month, Spain decided against using force.

Nonetheless, Alonso reiterated Spanish support to a French, British and US initiative for a UN resolution allowing their navies to go after pirates anywhere in the world.

[El Pais / A. Eatwell / Expatica]

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