updated 4/26/2008 2:38:45 PM ET 2008-04-26T18:38:45

The Spanish government said Saturday that 26 fishing crew members hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia have been released along with their ship after negotiations.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the crew and the trawler Playa de Bakio were sailing back home. She would not say whether a ransom had been paid.

"The fishing boat Bakio has been liberated and is now sailing in total freedom, escorted by a Spanish frigate toward safer waters," De la Vega told a news conference.

Reuters reports that a local Somali officials said the pirates were given $1.2 million.

"We have been informed by our intelligence services that the pirates were given $1.2 million, which was brought in a small boat," Abdisalam Khalif Ahmed, chairman of Haradhere port local authority in central Somalia, told Reuters.

"We also understand that the pirates arrived at El-Hud village, where they hired cars that took them away," he said.

Piracy problem
The 250-foot tuna fishing boat from Spain's Basque region was captured Sunday while it was fishing in international waters about 200 nautical miles off the coast from Mogadishu, Somalia.

The area off the horn of Africa has a serious problem with piracy

Pirates firing rocket-propelled grenades boarded skipper Amadeo Alvarez Gomez's boat and captured the crew of 13 Spaniards and 13 men from African countries.

De la Vega said the crew was in good health.

"The 26 crew are in perfect condition and we are communicating this to the boat's owners and the families," she said.

De la Vega said the release had been achieved through negotiation in London between the Spanish government, the ship owners and representatives of the hijackers.

She added no details but said the release had been achieved thanks to "cooperation and diplomacy."

Crew's safety preserved
Spain had sent its most modern frigate, the Mendez Nunez, to the region, and it was now escorting the Bakio, De la Vega said. It had been on maneuvers in the Red Sea when it was diverted to the Somali coast.

"We are satisfied because the crew's safety has been preserved at all times," De la Vega said.

She said the crew would be relieved from duty aboard the fishing vessel "in the shortest space of time possible," to allow them to fly back to Spain.

"We have taken steps so that similar situations do not happen again," De la Vega said.

The seizure came days after French judges filed preliminary charges against six Somali pirates accused of holding 30 hostages aboard a French luxury yacht for a week.

The crew of the yacht Le Ponant was freed April 11 off the coast of Somalia. The ship's owners reportedly paid a ransom to get the crew released.

De la Vega said the government would be taking up the subject of maritime piracy at a European Commission meeting Tuesday.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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