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Somali pirates release Spanish trawler

Madrid – Somali pirates have released a Spanish tuna trawler and its crew of 36 which they seized more than a month ago in the Indian Ocean, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Tuesday.

The announcement came after Somali pirates said they had been paid a ransom of USD 4 million (EUR 2.6 million).

The prime minister would not confirm if a ransom had been paid, saying only that the "government did what it had to do, it worked within the law in cooperation with the ship’s owner and the family members of the crew."

"I can confirm that the Alakrana fishing trawler is sailing freely toward safer waters and that all of its crew members are safe and sound," he told reporters.

"They are coming home, these difficult weeks have come to an end. This is very good news for the entire country," he added.

The Alakrana was seized on 2 October when it was over 300 nautical miles (550 kilometres) from the Somali coast, according to the ship’s owners, the Echebastar Fleet which is based in Spain’s northeastern Basque region.

Among its 36 crew were 16 Spaniards, eight Indonesians as well as others from Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Senegal and the Seychelles.

The Spanish Fisheries Confederation, Cepesca, expressed relief at the news, as did the families of the hostages.

"Today is a day to be glad for the freedom of the 36 crew and relax after this month and a half of uncertainty, suffering and anxiety," Cepesca said in a statement.

Argi Galbarriatu, the sister of the captain of the Alakrana, said she had spoken to her brother, Iker.

The crew "can hardly believe it" as they were "taken by surprise" by their release, she told reporters in the Basque town of Bermeo.

The seizure of the trawler has dominated newspaper headlines and television newscasts in Spain in recent weeks.

In addition to the ransom, the pirates had been demanding Spain release two pirates who are believed to have taken part in the hijacking of the Alakrana.

The two suspects were detained by the Spanish navy after they left the fishing trawler in a skiff and were they brought to Madrid to face trial.

They are expected to be deported to Somalia after a speedy trial, Spanish judicial sources said Monday.

They were formally charged with 36 counts of illegal detention and theft with violence and use of weapons.

The Alakrana is heading to the Seychelles where it is expected to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday from where the crew will fly back to Spain, the Spanish parliament was told.

In April 2008 a Spanish tuna boat was captured by pirates near Somalia and its crew held for six days. The government has not confirmed reports that a ransom of USD 1.2 million was paid.

In 2008, the world’s naval powers started deploying warships in the Gulf of Aden in an attempt to curb attacks by ransom-hunting pirates that were seen as a threat to one of the globe’s most crucial maritime trade routes.

Pirates have since shifted their focus to the wider Indian Ocean, a huge area more difficult to patrol, and maritime experts have warned that pirates could soon be hunting their prey as far out as the Maldives and Madagascar.

AFP / Expatica