Following the completion of the negotiations announcement and release of sailors as well as the role of the RNBO, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Security Service, the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine and other agencies in that incident, we tried to lift the veil of secrecy from some episodes of this case. Particularly, we asked for comments Oleksandr Skrypnyk, the Speaker of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, the important role of which had been stressed in official reports.
- The Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine through its overseas capabilities had been providing the continuous flow of information on the situation with the hostages, rehearsed possible variants of their release, – he said. – The SZRU had quickly traced the vessel’s path from its point of departure, collected information on the situation in the area of its seizure, on the peculiarities of pirates’ activities off the coast of Somali and the international practice of hostages’ release in the region. Through intelligence capabilities the relevant efforts were being made as to Somali tribes’ authorities in order to avoid any violent actions towards the crew members.
In addition, the contacts with the influential East African countries representatives ready to be involved into the settlement of the incident in case of failure of the basic variant of negotiations with the representative of the ship-owner, were established. The other steps addressing that incident were taken too, however, taking into account the specifics of the foreign intelligence activity, we can not tell about them in detail.
Having lost any hope to hear some exciting stories in the style of James Bond from the official representative of the special service, the editors decided to discuss the same issues with the foreign intelligence veteran (retired colonel) Anatoly BARONIN, who in 60-70s had been the resident of the Soviet intelligence in African countries Ghana, Nigeria and Liberia, and from a perspective of his current status he could afford more freedom in the statements.
- Anatoly Viktorovich, I wish to know whether the cases of piracy had ever happened to the Soviet vessels during your stay in Africa?
- If you look at a map, it becomes clear that all the countries where I had to work, are situated in the Gulf of Guinea. In the days of colonial rule, pirates sometimes even stayed there to relax after a successful attack. Well, it just so happened, that during my stay the incidents with the Soviet vessels had never happened. But later, when I worked in Moscow at the First Chief Directorate and carried out supervision in the same region, such incidents began to happen frequently. The attacks not only on the Soviet but the other countries’ ships as well happened off the coast of Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast (now Côte d’Ivoire), Liberia, Sierra Leone.
But, fortunately, there were only attempts, but none of our ship capture had happened back in the late ’70s – early’ 80s. The fact is that our sailors had effectively applied an original way to counteract: at the possible landing places they twirled the exposed wire on the broadside and at the time of the pirates’ activity they passed an electric current of high voltage through it. According to eyewitnesses, the results were hit both in the literal and figurative senses, and the pirates even had the superstitious fear of it.
- How do you assess the results of “Panagia” release from captivity?
- Definitely, it was a success of all departments involved in the operation.
- Was the heavy-handed approach possible in dealing with the incident?
- In my opinion, in such a situation that option should be considered as the last, after having exhausted all peaceful ways. It is necessary to take into account the norms of international law, as well as to have good knowledge of the psychology and mentality of local people, especially of those engaged in robbery, living in a country with no real power for a long time. In such circumstances, human life, and his own as well, is not of a great value. So pirates, learning about the use of force to release the crew and feeling any danger, could easily kill the hostages or take part of them deep into the area and sink the ship. Even in order to teach not to do so.
One vessel less or more – it does not matter for them. I had to be witnessed four coups myself, had stood at gunpoint of a Kalashnikov in the curfew before strong dark-skinned fellows with three grades of study. If it were not for an officer who appeared at a good hour and managed to read the diplomatic passport and to understand who I was, in a moment the guy’s finger on the trigger would not flinch.
Today, for modern pirates the vessels hijack is a source of livelihood, it is their profession. Besides, I am convinced that they are composed of highly educated professionals who had studied at the prestigious universities of the Soviet Union and Europe, and who are on duty in camps around pirated modern radars and localizers, being specialized in the negotiation process, banking operations support, that is why this phenomenon must be fought together on the international level.
- Anatoly Viktorovych, would you tell us in a language acceptable to many, what is behind the trivialities such as “through intelligence capabilities the relevant efforts were being made as to Somali tribes’ authorities” and “the contacts with the influential East African countries representatives were established“.
- I have not spoken on the subject with my colleagues. At the same time, from my past professional experience perspective I can only suppose, that the representatives of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, who work or have some channels of communication in this region, had mobilized all potential ways and means in government, law enforcement, business circles to collect the necessary information, looked for channels to the tribal leaders and pirates, who could make a decision.
In addition, in such cases, all information on compatriots who once studied in our schools is immediately digging up, the service outlines the circle of those who today have some influence and authority in their country and good to our country, attempts to draw them to the settlement process. Information on the middlemen in the talks, on the strengths and weaknesses, on possible concessions are being collected.
At the time, the contacts with partner intelligence services in order to attract their potential are being enhanced. In other words, the intelligence service does everything what any intelligence service of each country has to do in this situation. This work is invisible for the general public, and it is never advertised, but often it is intelligence information which becomes the main factor when adopting final decision. I think, it has been the case again.
- What do you think about lessons to be learned from this situation?
- I think, where they have not already done so, they need to learn and write down immediately all sharp, painful, problematic issues which can befall Ukraine, the subjects of Ukrainian foreign economic activity and Ukrainian citizens abroad: these are pirates, terrorists; aircrafts, vessels, accounts arrest, list of criminals, and the like. And also they have to bring all the necessary information with the relevant proposals for those who must make the decision at the state level. This should be done in order to take the necessary preventive measures in due time and to avoid mistakes. Then, perhaps, they would spend less efforts and money in a crises mode . So far as concerns this particular situation, you should always remember the “Iron Chancellor of Germany” Otto von Bismarck’s wise words: “Do not undertake anything without having alternative in the bottom drawer.”