Somali official: $1 million ransom paid to pirates for release of Spanish ship, 26 crew members

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Associated Press Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Authorities paid pirates a ransom of $1.2 million to win the freedom of a Spanish fishing boat and its 26-member crew seized off the Horn of Africa a week ago, a Somali official said.

Suspected pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades had seized control of the tuna-fishing boat from Spain's Basque region last Sunday about 200 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, a region where piracy has escalated recently.

The pirates released the ship Saturday, authorities said. The crew was freed after Spanish authorities paid a $1.2 million ransom, Abdi Khalif Ahmed, chairman of the Haradhere local port authority in central Somalia, said late Saturday.

"The ship is free and the pirates disappeared into their villages," he said.

However, Spanish officials did not confirm payment of a ransom and said only that there had been negotiations for the crew's release.

In Madrid, Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Saturday that the trawler, the 250-foot-long Playa de Bakio, was sailing home escorted by a Spanish frigate. She would not comment on any ransom.

She said the 13 Spaniards and 13 Africans on board the Playa de Bakio were in good health.

The ship's seizure came days after French judges filed preliminary charges against six Somali pirates accused of holding 30 hostages aboard a French luxury yacht for a week.

The crew of the yacht Le Ponant was freed April 11 off the coast of Somalia. The ship's owners reportedly paid a ransom to get the crew released.

De la Vega said the Spanish government would take up the subject of maritime piracy at a European Union meeting Tuesday.