Should the payment of ransoms to pirates be criminalised?


Book Reviewer
The Govt has criminalised the payment of bribes (perhaps thereby ensuring that, in some areas of the world, British firms will never again win a contract).

Should it criminalise the payment of ransoms to pirates, including criminalising any person or body who aids and abets such a payment in any way, including reimbursing a ransom via insurance?

Ransom payments to Somali pirates (and thus emboldening others) appear to run to many millions per ship and are funding a massive piracy and kidnap operation. The skiffs etc cost peanuts compared to the money being accumulated by the entrepreneurs who run the piracy, to whom of course the bods in the skiffs are expendable. Current constabulary operations do reduce the number of incidents but have resulted in piracy ops spreading right across the Indian Ocean almost to India, but the expense is enormous even though spread across a couple of dozen countries. Ships which comply with Best Management Practices (see low resolution (3).pdf ) appear to be much less at risk than those which don't.

Law & Sea | Piracy - Piratical seizure Versus Payment of a ransom. Masefield AG v Amlin in the Court of Appeal is a judgment by the Court of Appeal that in effect says that there is a duty to pay ransom in order to reduce insurance claims, because the ship is recovered.

The arguments against this appear to be

1. The jeopardy in which the current 200+ kidnapped seamen would be placed. However the foreknowledge that ransoms would no longer be paid might perhaps prevent further kidnappings and thus protect other seamen from the same treatment in the future.

2. Insurers etc not liking the prospect of ending up in jug.

Your views, please, gentlemen.


War Hero
Can we seal the borders first?

Can a bribe be considered as payment for a service? I'll give you money to release Ted and Deidre who went sailing and got caught?

As you indicated some cultures openly welcome "bribes". A moral code that forbids it is lacking.
What would be a reasonable number to sacrifice of those held for ransom, before the pirates got the message that we would not pay up. As you say Seaweed the instances of attacks has dropped dramatically since armed ship protection has been put in place, a nice little earner for ex Royals.


War Hero
Good luck trying to make it illegal. Piracy is illegal and look how much time, effort and money is currently being expended trying to put a stop to it off the HOA.

Additionally, even if you did make it illegal and then caught someone with a bag of loot and had a strong suspicion it was going to pay a ransom - prove it! The old adage "follow the money" when trying to trap money launderers and others is a great idea but virtually impossible in many cases due to State and Bank complicity with the practice not confined to Africa, Middle East and Far East despite what "Western" governments like to believe - it makes my blood boil!

MG Maniac

War Hero
Hmm Interesting one. The Govt criminalised the payment of bribes which the question has been asked if this should extend to the payment of ransomes to the Somalian Pirates. Seeing that it could be argued that it was partly due to GB inc withdrawing the fishing subsidies to Somalia that was to blame for fishermen forced out of business going into piracy in the first place I wonder if farmers within the EU accepting the EU Agriculture subsidies are guilty of taking bribes for growing various crops. Case in point. Farmer A knows that if he grows Rapeseed then there is a EU subsidy. EU subsidy is granted once proof that the crop is growing, so Farmers can't claim for something they are not growing (they wouldn't do that would they??) ... what it doesn't stop is Farmers, once the crop has been inspected and the subsidy granted, ploughing it back in the ground as the cost of harvesting it outweighs the prices they could get for the crop and I suspect there are a lot of EU subsidies that UK businesses have accepted in the same vein. Is this any different????

Also its in the Insurers interest that the Piracy continues as they insurance premiums have escalated and more than cover any payements they have to make so as far as Insurance is concerned Piracy could be seen as an income generator! That being said if a man gets income from an illegal act (e.g. lives off the proceeds of prostitution etc) then they could be liable for prosecution ... and last time I looked Piracy was illegal ... so therefore the Insurers are the only ones really profiting for piracy ... I rest my case!
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War Hero
Review Editor
Book Reviewer
No I don't think the paying of ransom should be made illegal. The government are not able to put enough resources in the area to clamp down on pirates so why should someone who wishes to get their relative/employee back be criminalised because the government can't get their act together?

I understand the arguments re paying ransoms just makes more piracy probable and the price of ransoms will just go up, but making it illegal is just a government ploy to take the heat from them for being unable to act.


War Hero
Book Reviewer
Hmm Interesting one [...] seeing that it could be argued that it was partly due to GB inc withdrawing the fishing subsidies to Somalia that was to blame for fishermen forced out of business going into piracy in the first place...

This, and the increase of toxic waste dumping, has often been used to descibe the origins of piracy in the Horn of Africa. But this narrative evaporates when faced with a highly organised, multi-million dollar criminal activity that is still on the increase. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 2011 witnessed 35 vessels hijacked and 227 seafarers taken hostage. All were releasded subject to a ransom payment of anything between $5m and $11m after an average detainment of period of six months. In 2005, the average ransom payment was $150k; in 2010 it was estimated as a total of $238m.

In an environment where NATO and EUNAVFOR are taking the pirates to task through interdiction, detainment and extradition, they are severely hamstrung by a severe absence of any effective rule of law ashore with which to prosecute and punish suspected pirates. Of 2200 'active' pirates, nine out of ten are released and less than 1000 pirates are behind bars, across 18 different countries. More recently, piracy has evolved into something even more insidious, with stories of torture and even death to those who resist attack. In Jan 11, a UN Special Report on Piracy stated that: "The risk of reaching a point of no return is emerging, with the creation of a veritable mafia, piracy driven economy and the deep disintegration of Somali society, which is built on fragile arrangements."

As MG-Maniac has implied, faced with increasing insurance premiums and crews simply refusing to go to sea, more and more shipping owners have concluded that the only credible method to safeguard a vessel, its crew and contents is through the deterrent provided by private, armed maritime security. And yet, a year or so ago, armed security in the industry was met with significant distaste. Arguably the threat simply did not warrant the presence of such force; indeed it was deemed to be the single factor towards supporting an escalation of violence and thereby something to be avoided. Why have firearms on board to deter would be attackers armed with nothing mroe than clubs ansd machetes?

An impediment to ships carrying arms is the UN Convention Law of the Sea. Ships normally have the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of a coastal state. This is premised upon the belief that that merely passing through these waters poses no threat to the coastal state or others using those waters. If ships carry arms then this belief might be questioned and much tighter restrictions concerning the right of passage could be placed upon shipping. All very well, however the maritime environment has changed significantly since the UN defined the law of the sea convention in 1982. So much so, that the current situation is now recognised by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) who - whilst stopping short of supporting private, armed security - have now issued guidance on the selection and contracting of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships transiting the high-risk areas, such as off the coast of Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the wider Indian Ocean.

Contemporary piracy is widely accepted as a highly organised criminal activity. Ship owners knwo that the only effective deterrent to this problem is private, armed security. The CEO of Clipper Ferries, Per Gullestrup, said in 2011: "We took the decision [recently] that we could not defend our ships without contracting-in armed guards with light machine guns and who will shoot back." Even the US acknowledged at the last US Committee on Foreign Affairs' Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade Hearing on "Confronting Global Piracy" [Jun 11]: "It is notable that no vessel with an armed security team embarked has been successfully hijacked."

Piracy appears not to be high on the political agenda of the internation community. Both EUNAVFOR and NATO openly admit their inadequacy of resources. The number of naval vessels available to conduct law enforcement is akin to having one police car to service the entire county of Kent! As the number of piracy attacks increases, ship owners have little choice but to accept armed security as the only credible deterrent to the problem. The private, maritime security sector does not consider itself as the only option to piracy, but the nex time you hear about another vessel being taken, pause and think about the Master and crew facing six months' brutal captivity, then consider whether the international community is doing enough to counter the threat and safeguard our fellow mariners. In a globalised environment, where over 99% of world trade in volume terms is trasported by sea, maritime security has never been so crucial as now, because in these difficult economic times, without vessels transiting safely across oceans, we will simply have no global commerce.

(Postscript: "Every generation gets the pirates it deserves" - Robert I. Burns, 'Muslims, Christians and Jews in the Crusader Kingdom of Valencia', 1968 )


Lantern Swinger
So long as governments are not prepared to effectively go after pirates any other means deemed necessary by the ship owners is in my book pretty much acceptable. At least the ship owners in using armed guards or paying ransoms are showing a duty of care to their employees, something HMG appears to have little interest in with regards to its own citizens.

MG Maniac

War Hero
SPB ... agree with most of your argument there ... but don't think the narraitve does fissle out that early on ... The Somalian fishermen were in reciept of subsidies from not only Britian but Denmark, Japan, Sweden, Iraq, USSR and Germany as well, however when that dried up they were forced in to quite object poverty which as we all know when faced with trying to provide for the family for some there is no alternative than to diversify into crime ... and then when the "Warlords" realised that this was actually a good way of generating large amounts of dosh etc so from some inept fishermen and some "petty" crime it transpired quite rapidly into "organised crime". I agree that the situation is escalating and I suspect it is only a matter of time before they eventually kill someone. I still think that the Insurers could actually do something to wards reducing the payouts to the pirates like perhaps banning ships from traversing the area but as they are hiking up the premiums and raking in the profits then think they are perhaps a bit loath to actually do anthing. Also as the pirates get more and more dosh they can increase the area of their operations and work further and further out from land by using mother ships etc and are obviously armed with a bit more than clubs & machete's ... suspect the good old AK-47 will be evident in numbers and I suspect the only way that they will be sorted out is by culling a few!