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Pirates free Spanish boat, crew

  • Story Highlights
  • Crew seized Sunday from tuna boat off Somalia is released, officials say
  • Tuna boat, 26-member crew headed to Seychelles under escort
  • Pirates had demanded money, Spanish officials say
  • Incident is latest in series of attacks on boats off Horn of Africa
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From CNN's Madrid bureau chief Al Goodman
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The crew of a Spanish fishing boat seized by pirates last week off the coast of Somalia has been freed, officials said Saturday, and the boat was being escorted to the Seychelles Islands.

The Playa de Bakio is headed for the Seychelles under escort, a Spanish official says.

Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, deputy prime minister of Spain, said at a news conference that all 26 crew members of the Playa de Bakio are being brought to safety.

She said the tuna boat "has been liberated" and was navigating on its own, headed toward the Seychelles escorted by a Spanish naval frigate. The crew, de la Vega said, is in "perfect condition."

The boat was seized Sunday. On Monday, Spanish state radio RNE reported that the pirates had demanded a ransom payment for the release of the crew.

Asked Saturday whether a ransom was paid, de la Vega said, "I can't give you details." But she said the "kidnappers" abandoned the boat, allowing it to sail away with the frigate.

The government had received the news about 5 p.m., she said.

"We're satisfied, because we have preserved the safety of the crew and diplomacy has worked," she said.

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But, she added, the Spanish government is working with its allies in the United Nations to prevent such piracy from happening again.

The Playa de Bakio could take a few days to reach the Seychelles.

The government had sent the frigate in response to the hijacking and sent Spain's ambassador to Kenya, the closest nation to Somalia. Spain also sent some planes into the region.

Half the boat's crew members are Spanish nationals from the Basque and Galicia regions of the country.

On Monday, RNE reported that it had called the ship several times and that during a brief conversation, a man who was apparently a pirate told them in English that the demand was for money, according to Ana Rosa Alonso, RNE's master control room chief.

Alonso said the man claimed there were four heavily armed pirates. In another call, a man who said in Spanish that he was the boat's captain assured listeners, "We are all right, and for the moment there's no problem."

The Spanish Foreign Ministry said the incident with the Playa de Bakio occurred in Somali waters, but it was not immediately known how far the ship was from the coast.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen pirates seized a French yacht off the Somali coast and held its 30-member crew hostage for a week. No passengers were on board. The hostages eventually were freed, and six of the pirates are in French custody after a raid in the Somali desert.

U.S. and NATO warships have been patrolling off the Horn of Africa for several years in an effort to crack down on piracy of long-lawless Somalia, where a U.N.-backed transitional government and Ethiopian troops are now battling Islamist insurgents.

But the pirate seizures have continued despite several run-ins between the pirates and the international fleet in recent months. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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