According to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, the release of the pirated Italian flagged tug Buccaneer may have been due to the payment of US$18.5 million to the Somali transitional government. This would make it the biggest ransom payment so far paid to Somali pirates, albeit indirectly.
The deep water tugboat MV Buccaneer was slowly towing two barges through the Gulf of Aden on April 11, 2009, when it was captured by Somali pirates. There were ten Italian crewmembers aboard, as well as five Romanians and one Croat. Several weeks after the vessel was hijacked, the Italian Navy ship San Giorgio arrived in the vicinity, with Italian special forces ready to storm the ship.
Under Italian law, no ransom could be paid to release the sailors, even though the owner of one of the barges had offered to pay for the release of the crew. However, after negotiations the pirates left the ship, allowing Italian special forces to board the tug and sail to Djibouti.
Italian Foreign Minister Frattini said that “Strong political work with local authorities as well as an Italian warship that was standing by with Special Forces finally made the pirates understand there was no other solution than to release the ship.”
Massimiliano D’Antuono, Deputy Head of the MFA Crisis Unit, said that the hostage release was the result of diplomatic, military and intelligence efforts. He added that the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia was instrumental in the negotiations with the pirates because of his family/clan/tribal links.
However, a Somali pirate said that a €4 million euro (US$5.7 million) ransom had been paid. This was strongly denied by the Italian government. The Wikileaks cable, dated August 17, 2009, and published by Wikileaks on July 30, revealed that pressure was brought on the pirates by the Somali Transitional Federal Government at about the same time that the Italian government pledged to donate US$18.5m (€13m) to Somali ‘institutions and the peace process’.
Additional money was paid by the Italian Development Corp, which Wikileaks suggests is also linked to the release of the tug. The US$18.5 million payment potentially makes it the largest every pirate ransom, double the previous highest amount paid to secure a ship’s release.
“The official line on the Buccaneer release is a substantial but incomplete accounting of factors that brought this situation to a peaceful conclusion,” the diplomatic cable concluded.
Piracy is a major problem in the Gulf of Aden region, costing the world economy and shipowners billions of dollars every year. According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of July 20 there have been 280 attacks on ships and 29 hijackings around the world this year. Somalia accounted for 166 incidents and 21 vessels hijacked. Somali pirates are holding 398 crewmembers and 20 vessels.