Spanish fishing boat seized by Somali pirates

22nd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Spain is appealing to NATO, US and France to help end the hostage crisis.

22 April 2008

MADRID - Spain appealed to France, the United States and NATO on Monday for help in ending a crisis sparked when pirates seized 26 crew members of a Spanish fishing boat off the Somali coast.

The defence ministry said a Spanish military frigate was heading to the area off east Africa, where the pirates have demanded money for the release of the crew, a day after storming the vessel armed with grenade launchers.

It said the ship would arrive in 24 to 36 hours.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega chaired a meeting of senior cabinet members, including Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and Defence Minister Carme Chacon, to discuss the crisis.

"We have sought the help of France and the United States," two countries with a military presence in the area, a Spanish government spokesman said.

The defence ministry "has already entered into contact with NATO authorities," the government said in a statement.

It said Madrid is also in contact with "Britain and other allied countries and friends with a military presence in the area".

The coastal waters off Somalia, which has not had an effective central government for more than 17 years and is plagued by insecurity, are considered to be among the most dangerous waterways for shipping in the world.

On Monday, a major Japanese oil tanker was damaged and then chased by heavily armed pirates off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen but no one was injured, officials and crew members said.

Spain's foreign ministry said the tuna boat, the Playa de Bakio, "was boarded and apparently seized while it was fishing in Somali waters" at 1:00 pm on Sunday, but that no one was hurt.

Thirteen of the crew are Spanish nationals, it said, while Spanish media reported that their 13 crewmates are African nationals.

Four pirates armed with grenade launchers seized the boat some 400 kilometres off the coast of Somalia, Spanish media said.

Speaking in broken English on Spanish National Radio (RNE), a man who appeared to be one of the pirates said Monday they wanted "money", after snatching the phone from the boat's captain who had been contacted on board.

"I am the captain of the boat... we are all well and there is no problem, for the moment there is no problem," the skipper said in Spanish, before being interrupted by the pirate who said he was a member of a "Somalia militia."

The newspaper El Mundo said on its Internet site Monday that the boat was headed for the Somali town of Gaan, about 50 kilometres from the southern town of Obbia.

The seizure came two days after a Paris court charged six Somalis with taking the crew of a French luxury yacht hostage earlier this month.

The six were captured by French special forces, along with USD 200,000 (EUR 125,000) of suspected ransom money, after they released the 30-strong crew of the yacht on 11 April. They had held the group hostage for a week.

The Spanish fishing boat was seized in the same area where the French yacht was attacked, RNE said.

Last year more than 25 ships were seized by pirates in Somali coastal waters despite US navy patrols.

The International Maritime Bureau advises merchant ships to stay at least 200 nautical miles from the Somali coast.

[AFP / Expatica]

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