Maritime trade union Nautilus has written to UK Shipping Minister John Hayes to express concerns over the potential for proposed new counter-terrorism laws to restrict or even outlaw the payment of ransoms to pirates holding seafarers hostage.
The union has added its voice to fears raised by marine insurers about the way in which the measures could restrict or prevent future general average or kidnap and ransom policy payments to secure the release of ships and seafarers held by pirates.
It has urged the minister to ensure that the government clearly retains the legal distinction between terrorism and piracy.
General Secretary Mark Dickinson pointed out that a significant number of Nautilus members have been held hostage in recent years — and as recently as October one was held captive for a fortnight in Nigeria before a ransom was paid for his release, and that of other shipmates who were taken from his vessel.
“It is a complex and contentious issue and it should be emphasised that, in most cases, negotiations on ransom payments are made between pirates and the shipping company affected, and not necessarily the countries of origin of the hostages or the flag state of the ship. We continue to believe that any attempt to make the payment of ransoms illegal — or even to delay the payments — would jeopardise the safety of seafarers held captive and that pirates would have little reluctance to carry through threats to kill and/or cause environmental damage if they are not paid. At no stage has any minister provided us with the requested assurances or information on what the alternative to non-payment of ransoms would be,” Dickinson added.