Somalia’s government expects a settlement in about three weeks with pirates holding hostage 36 crew of a Spanish fishing vessel, a source close to the Somali prime minister said.
“The government of Spain is facing mounting pressure from its people and wants an end to this hostage crisis very quickly,” the source told Reuters.
“But the situation on the ground is tough. It may take two to three weeks to secure the freedom of its nationals.”
The source spoke after a meeting between the Spanish envoy to Kenya and Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke in the Kenyan capital. A second meeting is to be held on Monday to work out a strategy for freeing the hostages, the source added.
A pirate who identified himself as Mohamed told Reuters by phone that three Spanish sailors were still being held ashore in Somalia after being taken there from their tuna fishing vessel, the Alakrana, where the rest of the crew remain. The ship is moored off the pirates’ enclave of Haradheere.
The pirate, who said he was on board the Alakrana, said the three would be returned to the craft only when two alleged pirates being held in Spain were freed.
He said Madrid should negotiate directly with the pirates, rather than trying to deal with the Somali government.
But in Madrid, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said he believed the entire crew of 36 were on the Alakrana.
“All our reliable sources, our (intelligence) services, tell us they are all on board,” he told a news conference.
Suspected pirates captured
The Spanish navy captured two Somalis in the Indian Ocean shortly after pirates seized the Alakrana on Oct. 2. They are set to face trial in Spain on kidnapping and other charges.
Moratinos said Spain was directing its diplomatic efforts at authorities in Mogadishu.
“The Somali government has to guarantee the security and integrity of all the crew,” he said. “With this greater diplomatic effort, we think we can get results quicker.”
In a statement late yesterdat, the Spanish Foreign Ministry said Sharmarke had assured the Spanish envoy that “according to the information he has, all the crew of the Alakrana are fine”.
But Mohamed said Madrid had to deal directly with the pirates, not Sharmarke, whose government holds little or no sway in the bulk of Somali territory.
“This has nothing to do with Sharmarke, it concerns parents and missing sons,” Abdulahi Abdisalan, an uncle of one of the pirates held in Spain, told Reuters.
“Even if a ransom is paid, whatever amount, we will not release (the hostages) unless we get our sons back to Haradheere.”
Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers Association, also told Reuters the latest information he had indicated that three of the Spanish were being held onshore.
The crew include sailors from Spain, the Seychelles, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Senegal.
The Alakrana’s first mate, Ricardo Blach, told Spanish television by phone that the captain had been separated from the rest of the crew early on, and that he did not know whether all the crew were on board.
Moratinos said the Alakrana’s crew had food and water, but Blach said they had been without water since Saturday.