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17 November 2009: Somali pirates release the Alakrana tuna boat and its 36 hostages

The Alakrana tuna fishing boat.
The Alakrana tuna fishing boat. / SUR
  • The boat was under seizure for forty-seven days

On 17 November 2009, forty-seven days after its capture, the Alakrana tuna boat and the crew on board were freed after being held hostage by Somali pirates. The Spanish fishing boat, based in the Basque port of Bermeo, was sailing in international waters of the Indian Ocean when it was captured on 2 October 2009. The hijack was the second attack from Somali pirates against the Alakrana in less than a month.

The seven weeks of the vessel's capture saw a great deal of tension; the day after the Alakrana was seized, two Somali pirates were captured by the Spanish Navy and put on trial in Madrid with charges of kidnapping and armed assault and later sentenced to 439 years in prison for the hijack. In retaliation, the Somali hijackers threatened to kill three of the Spanish crew members if the detained pirates were not released.

On 7 November 2009 the families of the 36 kidnapped sailors asked for authorities to cooperate with the Somali criminals and release the arrested pirates in order to guarantee the freedom of the hostages. Thousands of people demonstrated in Vigo and Bermeo, which is where the majority of crew members came from, to further reiterate this demand.

However in the end the crew were freed without the release of the Somalis held in Spain.

Pirate spokesmen told the press at the time of the vessel's release that they were receiving a ransom of 2.5 million euros for handing over the ship and crew. When prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero announced the &ldquovery good news&rdquo on 17 November 2009, he neither confirmed nor denied this. In his announcement he said, with a smile, that all crew members were &ldquosafe and sound&rdquo and that the &ldquogovernment did what it had to do&rdquo. After the ship's liberation, it sailed freely to Victoria in the Seychelles, arriving there on 20 October. During the ship's release, Spanish forces attempted, to no avail, to capture the pirates who led the hijack while they were fleeing the Alakrana.

From the date of the hijack until the ship's release, the story of the Alakrana was followed closely by the Spanish public, with the news of its liberation triggering excitement and relief around the country. All of the sailors were greeted in the Basque Country and Galicia with banners and celebrations when arriving home.

In 2009, Somali pirates held 10 captured vessels, with over 200 hostages. On the same day of the Alakrana's release, pirates attacked and captured a chemical vessel, the Theresa VIII, on its way to Kenya. The vessel, which was made up of mostly Korean crew, was later released.

As a result of the incident with the Alakrana, on 2 November 2009 Spanish laws were changed to allow security guards to carry firearms of up to 12.7 millimetres on board ships displaying a Spanish flag, provided that the weapon is bought from Spanish arms manufacturers or distributors. It was hoped that this measure would prevent further capture of Spanish vessels and sailors.