Hijacked Spanish fishing boat freed

Spanish president José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has just announced that the fishing trawler hijacked by Somali pirates 47 days ago had been set free earlier this morning and was sailing towards “safer waters” on the first part of its journey home. He said that all the crew were safe and well.

The Spanish tuna trawler Alakrana was hijacked in the Indian Ocean six weeks ago and all its crew were taken hostage. Two of the pirates were captured a few days after the original hijack and were flown to Spain to await trial. The pirates added their colleagues’ release to their original ransom payment demand, which led to a stalemate in negotiations as the Spanish authorities said they were determined to comply with international law and as such it was impossible to let the two captured pirates go home free.

Ten days ago things came to a head when pirates allowed crew members to talk to the Spanish media in telephone interviews where they underlined the terrible conditions in which they were being held, the aggressive attitude of their captors and the shortage of food and water.

The pirates threatened to start killing their hostages and to continue until the two men held in Spain were allowed to return. Crew members were also allowed to contact their families, and several wives gave dramatic statements, highlighting the low morale and fear expressed by their husbands, criticising the lack of progress being made in negotiations and making public pleas for the authorities to return the two captured pirates to Somalia.

The families met with José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero last week, and after that meeting stopped making statements to the media. No more press conferences or interviews were held and secrecy has surrounded the last few days of negotiations. While the two pirates are still in custody in Spain, sources in Somalia have said that their colleagues have received assurances that they will eventually return to Somalia.

Zapatero refused to say whether or not a ransom had been paid with public money and when asked about a possible ransom he just said that the Spanish government had done what it had to do to secure the mens’ freedom and a peaceful end to the conflict. He praised the relatives of crew for the discretion they had shown since he met with them, and he also expressed his gratitude to Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition, for his support during the conflict.