Spain says trawler hijacking drama might drag on

MADRID — Spain is working to secure the release of a Spanish tuna trawler hijacked in the Indian Ocean with a crew of 36 but the ordeal could drag on, the defense minister said today.

Pirates seized the ship Alakrana on Friday about 375 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia. Today it was anchored near an undisclosed Somali port, said its owner, Echebastar Fleet. The Defense Ministry had said Sunday it was actually moored at a port.

While the trawler was still on the high seas, two alleged hijackers left it in a skiff and were captured by Spanish naval forces while heading for shore. One was shot and slightly wounded. Spanish forces are taking part in an EU anti-piracy flotilla.

A Spanish judge requested Sunday that those two suspects be sent to Madrid for investigation on charges of piracy and terrorism. Spanish news reports say there are still 11 pirates in control of the ship.

All 36 crew members are in good condition and unharmed, Defense Minister Carme Chacon told Spanish National Television.

She dodged a question on whether the Spanish government would consider paying a ransom.

“We are studying all options, legal ones, of course. We are strengthening all fronts, the diplomatic one, investigation, intelligence and also that of military pressure,” Chacon said.

Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos spoke today with Somalia’s prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, who promised to help secure the vessel’s release, Moratinos’ office said in a statement.

Chacon noted that a hijacked German freighter was held for nearly four months before being freed in August. And the Spanish trawler Playa de Bakio, seized in April 2008, was held for a week before the Spanish government reportedly paid a euro1.2 million ransom.

“So we can assume this might go on longer than the Playa de Bakio,” Chacon said today.

Chacon said there have been 126 pirate attacks and 44 hijackings in the region this year.

Echebastar Fleet said many of the Alakrana’s crew members were allowed to phone home Sunday.

Cristina Blach, daughter of the Alakrana’s skipper, Ricardo Blach, told the newspaper El Faro de Vigo that her father called twice.

“In the first call, my father said that they were all right and being treated well, and that we should stay calm.” She said she told her father “to do everything the pirates say.”

When the pirates attacked, the ship had its nets deployed so it could not react quickly, she added, quoting her father.

Manuel Garcia Gomez said his son, Jose Antonio Garcia Alvarez, a crew member, called home and said he expected the drama to be over in two or three days.

“At least now I can swallow my food and sleep a bit,” Garcia Gomez told the newspaper.

Sixteen of the crew members are Spanish. The rest are from Ghana, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Senegal and the Seychelles.

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