Spain pays £2m ransom to pirates for release of 36 hostages

Somali pirates are thought to have received a £2million ransom tonight by Spanish authorities after the release of 36 crew members, held for six weeks.

One of the captors on the Spanish trawler said the cash had been paid - and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not deny the allegation.

It is thought to be the second time Spain has paid a ransom to free hostages, despite a general policy by Britain and other Western countries not to.

Critics of the payment say the lucrative deals are the reason behind the rise in attacks.


Rescue mission: Successful rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from pirates in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia on April 13, 2009

British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler have been held by pirates for nearly four weeks after being captured as they sailed their yacht from the Seychelles to Tanzania.

Their Somali captors have demanded £4million for their release, but the British government has said it will not make a payment.

After the money was paid to the pirates, the Spanish trawler, tuna boat Alakrana, steamed out to sea from the port of Haradhere under the protection of two warships.

All 36 crew were reported to be in good health after more than six weeks in captivity.

Pirate Ali Gab said a boat had delivered the ransom.

He added pirates began leaving the ship shortly afterward, and that a Spanish warship nearby watched the proceedings.


Seized: Paul and Rachel Chandler's yacht which was captured by pirates

The EU Naval Force said the Alakrana had made its way to the open sea tonight.

'Alakrana stated in her call that all the pirates had disembarked the ship and that she had sufficient fuel,' the force said in a statement.

'The captain also reported that the crew of 36 were in good health.'


Held hostage: Paul and Rachel Chandler

Mr Rodriguez Zapatero was evasive when asked if the government had taken part in payment of a ransom.

'The government did what it had to do,' he told a news conference in Madrid.

'The important thing is that the sailors will be back with us.

'The first obligation of a country, of the government of a state, is to save the lives of its countrymen.'

The trawler had been seized on October 2, and had 16 Spaniards, eight Indonesians and 12 crew from five African countries aboard.

In April 2008, the Spanish government reportedly paid a ransom of $1.2million (£7.4million) for the release of another Spanish trawler seized by pirates off Somalia, that time with a crew of 26. The ordeal lasted a week.

In the latest attempted hijackings, pirates attacked two vessels off East Africa on Monday, successfully capturing one of the ships and its crew of 28 North Koreans.

The pirates attacked a chemical tanker named the MV Theresa with the 28 crew members on board, the European Union's anti-piracy force said.

The vessel, which was operated out of Singapore, had been heading to the Kenyan port town of Mombasa. The EU force did not say what kind of chemicals were on board.

In a second incident on Monday, pirates attacked a Ukrainian cargo ship with AK-47 rifles and rocket propelled grenades after two small skiffs detached from a mother ship.

Harbour, the EU Naval Force spokesman, said that private security guards on board fired on the pirates, wounding two. The pirates then broke off the attack, the force said, Harbour said the Ukrainian ship was not hijacked.

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