From: Reuters
Published April 26, 2008 03:03 PM

Somali pirates free Spanish boat for ransom

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates have freed a Spanish fishing boat with its 26-member crew for a ransom of $1.2 million, a Somali official said on Saturday.

The tuna fishing boat Playa de Bakio, seized by pirates last Sunday 200 miles off the lawless Horn of Africa nation, was now heading for the Seychelles under naval escort, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said.

It was the third release this month of a vessel seized by Somali pirates in the world's most dangerous shipping zone.

A Dubai-flagged ship was rescued by Somali troops on Tuesday and French commandos earlier this month swooped on pirates who had hijacked a luxury yacht.

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Suspected Somali pirates also fired on a Japanese-flagged chemical carrier off Yemen on Monday.

The crew of the Playa de Bakio comprises 13 Spaniards and 13 Africans.

"The boat was released around 4 p.m. (9 a.m. EDT). We have been informed by our intelligence services that the pirates were given $1.2 million, which was brought in a small boat," Abdisalam Khalif Ahmed, chairman of Haradhere port local authority in central Somalia, told Reuters.

"We also understand that the pirates arrived at El-Hud village, where they hired cars that took them away," he said.

El-Hud is near Haradhere, which in turn is close to the area where the tuna boat was seized.

Spain had sent a navy frigate, the Mendez Nunez, to the area and it was now escorting the fishing boat to safety, Fernandez de la Vega said at a news conference in Madrid.

She did not say whether a ransom had been paid but added that "the government and the owners have collaborated to find a solution to such a complicated situation."

It was estimated that the boat would arrive in Victoria, the Seychelles capital, on Tuesday.

Somalia has had no central-rule since 1991 when former strongman Mohamed Said Bare was overthrown by clan militias, plunging the Horn of African country into anarchy.

(Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Giles Elgood)

(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)

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