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Cablegate: Italy: Pirates Release Buccaneer Crew Without

VZCZCXRO4374
PP RUEHFL RUEHNP
DE RUEHRO #0944/01 2291429
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 171429Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2536
INFO RUEHUP/AMEMBASSY BUDAPEST PRIORITY 0648
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 0448
RUEHDJ/AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI PRIORITY 0276
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI PRIORITY 1594
RUEHYN/AMEMBASSY SANAA PRIORITY 0193
RUEHVB/AMEMBASSY ZAGREB PRIORITY 0799
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE PRIORITY 3753
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN PRIORITY 0185
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES PRIORITY 3961
RUEHFR/UNESCO PARIS FR PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 3032
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY 4853

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 000944

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2019
TAGS: PREL PHSA SO IT

SUBJECT: ITALY: PIRATES RELEASE BUCCANEER CREW WITHOUT
RANSOM PAYMENT

REF: ROME 00930

Classified By: Charge d'affaires Elizabeth Dibble for reasons 1.4 (b) a
nd (d).

1. (C) Summary: On August 11, Poloff met with Massimiliano
D'Antuono, Deputy Head of the MFA Crisis Unit, to discuss the
details of the release of the MV Buccaneer crew which was
taken hostage by pirates off the coast of Somalia. A Somali
pirate is quoted in the press as saying that a four million
euro ransom had been paid. This conflicts with Foreign
Minister Frattini's statement 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." D'Antuono affirmed that the hostage release was the
result of diplomatic, military and intelligence efforts. He
asserted 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. End summary.

Background
- - - - -

2. (C) On April 11, the deep water tugboat MV Buccaneer was
slowly towing two large barges at 4-5 knots in the Gulf of
Aden. Because it was moving too slowly to join a convoy, and
because its rear deck was designed to be low to the water
line, the crew of 10 Italians, 5 Romanians and 1 Croat was an
easy target for Somali pirates. According to D'Antuono, a
couple of hours after the ship was commandeered, one crew
member was able to push a distress button calling for help.
The ship's owner received an email from the Buccaneer with
its location coordinates, but he correctly identified the
message as a ruse because ""the English used was better than
anything the crew was capable of."" The pirates were able to
anchor the ship in a cove on the Somali coast. After 2-3
weeks, the Italian Navy ship San Giorgio arrived in the
vicinity to take up a position approximately eight miles off
the shore. Italian Special Forces, who arrived on the San
Giorgio, routinely positioned themselves and their small
boats in close proximity to the Buccaneer so that they could
react within 20-30 seconds to an assault by the pirates on
the hostages. D'Antuono implied the pirates knew the Special
Forces had positioned themselves within striking distance
even if they were not able to visibly locate them.

3. (C) The Crisis Unit worked under the direct supervision of
the "highest levels" of the MFA to negotiate the hostages'
release. D'Antuono described a "three-pillar approach using
diplomatic, military and intelligence resources." He
traveled to Somalia with Margherita Boniver, FM Frattini's
Special Envoy for Humanitarian Emergencies, to leverage
Italy's "special relationship" with Somalia and the GOI's
current support for the TFG. Meetings with the TFG Prime
Minister Sharmarke served to exert pressure on the pirates by
virtue of family/clan/tribal relations. Asked for specifics,
he demurred that "the Prime Minister was the one who made the
release happen."

4. (C) D'Antuono emphasized that under Italian law, no ransom
could be paid to release the sailors. He stated that the
owner of one of the barges offered to pay a ransom, but was
informed that proceeding with that course of action would
result in prosecution by the Italian courts. In contrast to
the barge owner's interactions with the GOI, he described the
governments of Romania and Croatia, whose nationals were also
being held captive, as being completely supportive of the
GOI's lead role in the negotiations.

5. (C) Without discussing details, D'Antuono stated that at a
certain point, the Special Forces from the San Giorgio were
cleared to board the Buccaneer after all of the pirates had
vacated the ship. The Special Forces took control of the
ship and set sail with the crew to Djibouti. After a medical
assessment in Djibouti, the crew flew to Italy where they
will brief the prosecutor's office in Rome responsible for
handling such cases for possible future action. D'Antuono
believed the crew was treated reasonably well with the
exception of a "beating of one of the Romanians" by the
pirates. He mentioned that, at least once, the crew was
taken ashore to offer relief from the cramped quarters of the
ship.

6. (C) D'Antuono emphasized the GOI's aversion to resorting
to a military operation because of the negative Italian
public opinion that would likely follow any loss of life. He
suggested that headlines describing fatherless children would
have been a public relations disaster for the GOI, especially
as the world focused its attention on Italy as the host of
the G8 Summit in June.

Ransom Paid?
- - - - - - -

7. (C) Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African
Seafarer's Assistance Programme was quoted in the press as
saying that the pirates received a four million euro ransom.
Sometimes described as an intermediary between pirates and
those who pay ransom, his role, if any, in the release of the
Buccaneer crew is not clear. D'Antuono stated that the MFA
is "familiar with" Mwangura, but dismissed his claims of a
paid ransom as "a marketing technique." He reasoned that
releasing a crew without receiving a ransom would set an
unprofitable precedent. He assessed claims of having
received a ransom as a necessary strategy to protect the
economic value of the pirates' illicit activities.

8. (SBU) In terms of what the GOI did offer the TFG, if not
the pirates, an MFA statement describes financial support in
2009 dedicated to ""Somali institutions and to the peace
process"" totaling 13 million euros. Additional money has
been disbursed through the Italian Development Cooperation.
(see reftel)

Comment
- - - -

9. (C) The official line on the Buccaneer release is a
substantial but incomplete accounting of factors that brought
this situation to a peaceful conclusion. Gaining the release
of the Italian vessel and hostages was a top priority, albeit
low profile effort, for the Italian government. Prime
Minister Berlusconi himself reportedly made many of the early
critical decisions. Italy, with U.S. assistance, moved
quickly to ensure that it had a full range of options
available to resolve the issue, including the strategic
positioning of elite forces ready to engage in an
extraction/rescue operation if necessary. These efforts were
buttressed by Italy's re-energizing its relations with
Somalia and engaging in a high profile ""embrace"" of its
former colony. In spite of Italy's slashed overseas budget,
it has dedicated significant development and humanitarian
assistance to the TFG and announced its commitment to re-open
an embassy in Mogadishu at the June 2009 International
Contact Group on Somalia meeting held in Rome. A logical
quid pro quo for Italy's new engagement was TFG action to
resolve the hostage crisis. Adamant denials that Italy paid
ransom, directly or otherwise, have been accompanied by
claims of ignorance of TFG initiatives to liberate the
hostages. The GOI was acutely aware of the strong USG
opposition to the payment of ransom in this case and we
believe that resulted in Italy relying heavily on the TFG to
deliver its citizens.
DIBBLE

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