Spanish intelligence services help in rescuing Somali hostages
Government source confirms the agency’s involvement in dealing with the release of the kidnapped fishing crew.6 May 2008
MADRID - The ransom that secured the release of the crew of a Spanish fishing trawler seized by pirates off Somalia in April was paid by the owner of the vessel with the help of Spain's intelligence services, government sources have revealed.
The sources have confirmed for the first time that a ransom was paid to the pirates by Basque fisheries company Pevasa, owner of the freezer ship Playa de Bakio, although they did not reveal the sum.
A Somali official had previously told the Reuters news agency that it amounted to USD 1.2 million (approximately EUR 770,000).
Spain's National Intelligence Centre (CNI) handled the payment.
On 23 April, three days after 26 crew of the Playa de Bakio were taken hostage by grenade launcher-wielding buccaneers 200 nautical miles off Somalia's east coast, the CNI sent six agents to next door Djibouti, where the French military has a large base.
Once there, the agents coordinated with special forces of the French Gendarmerie, who earlier in the month handled a EUR 1.3 million payment that secured the release of the crew of the French yacht Ponant after they were taken hostage off Somalia.
The intelligence officers ensured that the demands of the Playa de Bakio hijackers were met, including getting the money to them in cash. On 26 April, when the crew was freed, the Spanish agents left the region.
"The investigation is still open, both at a Spanish and international level, but it makes no sense to keep people on the ground in such a dangerous place as Somalia," noted one source.
Unlike the French, who sent in commandos to capture the pirates and recover the ransom money in the Ponent incident, the Spanish government decided against a rescue operation from the start.
"Firstly, we lack the necessary [military] capacity in the area," said one source. Unlike France, which maintains 3,000 troops in its Djibouti base along with a helicopter carrier ship, two frigates and a supply vessel, Spain only had the Méndez Núñez, a frigate that broke from training operations in the Red Sea to go the assistance of the Playa de Bakio.
"Secondly, the French had the surprise factor on their side," the source added.
The arrest of the Ponent hijackers on 11 April was the first time such a daring operation inside Somalia had been carried out. The pirates who took the Playa de Bakio knew what had happened and took precautions. "That made a rescue operation more difficult," the source said.
In addition, the government feared that if a rescue operation were carried out, Somali pirates may exact revenge on the other 28 Spanish fishing boats that regularly fish off the Horn of Africa, which Spain would struggle to protect because of its scant military resources in the area.
The government is hoping that a UN resolution proposed by France and the United States to allow countries to take action against pirates anywhere in the world will make the northwestern Indian Ocean a safer place.
[El Pais / M Gonzalez / J. A. Rodriguez / Expatica]