The UK government has pledged that it would not outlaw the payment of ransoms to secure the release of seafarers held hostage by pirates.
Maritime trade union Nautilus has written to UK ministers to voice concerns over the potential for proposed new counter-terrorism laws to restrict or even outlaw the payment of piracy ransoms.
In a response to Nautilus, Home Office Minister James Brokenshire says the government intends to maintain the distinction between ransom payments made to criminals and those made to terrorists.
“It is already an offence to make ransom payments to terrorists,’”he adds. “The situation is different in piracy cases. Whilst the government strongly advises against making ransom payments to pirates, doing so is not illegal under UK law.”
Nautilus General Secretary Mark Dickinson welcomed the clarification, adding 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.”
Dickinson pointed out that a significant number of Nautilus members have been taken 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.