Spain ruled out freeing two captured pirates as demanded by fellow brigands holding a Spanish trawler and 33 crew members off Somalia and reportedly threatening to start killing hostages.
Spain ruled out freeing two captured pirates as demanded by fellow brigands holding a Spanish trawler and 33 crew members off Somalia and reportedly threatening to start killing hostages. Deputy Defense Minister Constantino Mendez said Friday the two Somali men were captured and brought to Madrid because of their alleged role in the hijacking of a Spanish-flagged vessel the tuna boat Alakrana, on Oct. 2 in the Indian Ocean.
Refering to their being held in custody, he told Spanish National Radio: "The situation is not negotiable."
However, he seemed to leave open a possibility of transferring them to the court system of another country, as Spain did in a similar case in May.
Pirates holding the Alakrana took three crew members ashore to Somalia on Thursday, the Defense Ministry said.
The wives of two crew members who spoke to their husbands Thursday said the pirates are demanding the release of the two in custody in Madrid as a condition for letting the ship and its crew go.
On Thursday night, the skipper of the Alakrana, Ricardo Blach, told Spanish television the heavily armed pirates on board had threatened to kill the three crew members taken ashore if there was no progress in freeing the two men.
"They told us an hour ago that if there is no movement relating to those who are in Spain, then they would begin by killing those three in three days' time, and then they would take another three, and so on," Blach said.
Blach said around 30 pirates aboard the Alakrana consumed drugs, often quarreled among themselves and were equipped with machine guns, bazookas, grenade launchers and handguns. "If you say anything to them, they put a pistol to your forehead," he said.
"This morning they took us all toward the bow of the ship and they began shooting, aiming at the mast and not us people, but the ricochets could have hit any of us," Blach said.
The three taken ashore are Spanish, he said. All told, the crew includes 16 Spaniards, eight Indonesians and others from Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Senegal and the Seychelles.
On Friday, relatives of the crew issued an urgent appeal for the Spanish government to free the detained pirates. "Otherwise they will be jeopardizing the lives of our loved ones," they said in a statement released in the Basque town of Bermeo, where the Alakrana is based.
The company that owns the Alakrana, Echebastar Fleet, urged the government to "facilitate the departure of the two Somalis detained in Spain, taking urgent measures."
Mendez ruled out freeing the two and said Spanish forces will arrest the other pirates if possible. But when asked if the two in custody in Madrid might be transferred to an African country, similar to a case in May, he seemed to suggest that was an option.
"One can discuss issues of jurisdiction at length. They have many angles and law is not mathematics. Therefore, it is something that is open to differing opinions," Mendez said.
In May, Spanish naval forces caught seven young pirates trying to hijack a Panamanian-flagged ship in the Gulf of Aden. Spanish courts initially considered bringing them to Madrid, but ultimately turned them over to Kenya under an anti-piracy agreement with the European Union.
Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said after a Cabinet meeting Friday that all of the crew members are OK, given the circumstances, and the government is working on all fronts to try to free them.
In April 2008, the Spanish government reportedly paid a euro1.2 million ($1.78 million) ransom to secure the release of the Spanish trawler Playa de Bakio, which had been captured by pirates off Somalia's coast. In the end, it was held for six days.