Paying Ransom, Does It Exacerbate Pirate Issue?
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Some Somali pirates got a boatload of cash recently. The pirates reportedly received a $4 million ransom in exchange for freeing the hijacked crew of a Spanish fishing vessel last week. That has raised the question of whether Spanish boats are now in greater danger because the pirates were paid off. Spanish leaders are scheduled to appear in parliament tomorrow to defend their handling of the case. And we have more this morning from Jerome Socolovsky.
(Soundbite of ship's horn blowing)
JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: The Alakrana, a large tuna fishing trawler, pulled into port in Seychelles last weekend. The 36 crew members and their families were shown on television greatly relieved that the ordeal was finally over.
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SOCOLOVSKY: The crew was made up of mostly Spaniards and Africans of several nationalities. They'd been held hostage on their vessel for 47 days by pirates, whom they said were armed with grenade launchers and were often high on drugs. The pirates left the boat on November 17th, after an aircraft reportedly dropped a bundle of money onto the deck. In Madrid, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was asked if a ransom had been paid.
Prime Minister JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO: (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: The government did what it had to do, within the bounds of legality, of course, he said.
Some speculate the money came from the ship owner. Still, there was criticism both at home and abroad. At the United Nations, the special envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, was not very diplomatic.
Mr. AHMEDOU OULD-ABDALLAH (Special Envoy, Somalia): Paying the ransom can only exacerbate the situation, because if someone knows that going to casino he will win, he will keep going to casino.
SOCOLOVSKY: And even the same boats can be a jackpot twice. At a news conference on the Seychelles, the skipper of the Alakrana, Ricardo Blach, said that as the hijacking was ending, he was warned that he could be taken captive again.
Captain RICHARD BLACH (Alakrana): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: The pirates told us watch out, because after we go, another group is going to try to get you, he said.
Spain has one of the biggest fishing fleets in the world, numbering around 13,000 vessels. Last year, the crew of another Spanish trawler was freed after the ship owner reportedly handed over a million dollars. The Spanish government recently approved the deployment of armed private guards on fishing boats sailing in perilous waters.
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Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: Spanish television showed one of their training sessions. Still, critics say Spain's deterrent capacity is in question after the Alakrana episode. During the hijacking, the Spanish navy captured two alleged pirates and flew them to Madrid for trial. The pirates on the fishing boat threatened to start killing the crew, only weakening the government's negotiating position. After the liberation, a Spanish helicopter fired on the pirates launch, but failed to stop their getaway.
In Madrid, opposition lawmakers have slammed the Zapatero government's handling of the crisis. Mariano Rajoy is leader of the conservative Popular Party.
Mr. MARIANO RAJOY (Leader, Popular Party, Spain): (Spanish spoken)
SOCOLOVSKY: The image of our country and our government has been clearly damaged by the incompetence, the lack of coordination and the haughtiness with which Senor Zapatero's government acted, he said.
Still, the prime minister points out that the Spanish fishermen are now free, which is not the case for scores of hostages of other nationalities who have been held by pirates off the coast of Somalia for months.
For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Madrid.
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