Seafarer ransom threat from terror links

Girija Shettar

A suspected convergence between terrorism and piracy would threaten ransom payments for seafarers, experts confirm.

“For many countries, it is illegal to pay ransoms if they will fund terrorism. For example, in some countries, if there was a definite connection between piracy and terrorism in Somalia, then it would become illegal to pay ransoms to free ships and crews from Somali pirates,” Commander Hallvard Flesland of the NATO Shipping Centre told IHS Maritime.

Cdr Flesland, who gave a talk on maritime crime in west Africa at SMi’s conference on port security in London last week, added: “In such a case, ship crews would become uninteresting to pirates. This is why it is important to have the money stream followed to see where it is ending up.”

But shipping is concerned that proof of a convergence might make matters worse. Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, told IHS Maritime: “It would create a difficulty in the case of some flag states. It is the wish of the shipowner to have his crew released as quickly as possible, and any construct that sought to make that process more difficult would be most unwelcome.”

So far, a link between maritime crimes/piracy and terrorism is not considered proven fact but a strongly held assumption by experts.

“It is an ongoing debate and one that is, where possible, ignored,” Alasdair Walton, information manager for risk awareness consultancy Hermes Associates, told IHS Maritime today.

Walton said evidence was stronger for Somali than for west African piracy and cited examples, including reports “from multiple sources” of pirate groups in al-Shabaab-controlled areas paying “taxes” from ransoms; pirates smuggling supplies for al-Shabaab; and pirates meeting with al-Shabaab to discuss hostages.

“Equally, it is not in the pirates’ interest for convergence to be discovered. The deaths of Simon Davies and Clement Gorrisson [April 2104] were not random killings, and they were two of UNODC’s best money-tracking experts,” Walton said.


Maritime Security News Note:
The terror/piracy nexus is something certain governments have been desperate to prove for a number of years, and always without success. Finally labelling pirates and maritime thieves as terrorists would instantly allow them to be targetted by Western governments in a way that currently they are not. Yes, there have been incidents of collusion between pirates and elements of groups such as al Shabaab, but these have generally been in order to secure access to certain areas controlled by those groups, or the purchase of hostages from one group by another. Ultimately, it doesn’t take the sharpest brain to realise that the ambitions of most pirates (drugs, alcohol, women and material possessions) are somewhat at odds with those held by strict Islamists.

Many governments have pushed to make all ransom payments illegal, without apparent thought to where that would leave those currently held hostage. In 2013, British Prime Minister, David Cameron, pushed for just that, and was rebutted in this article by former hostage and journalist, Colin Freeman.

For the estimated 41 hostages still held by pirates in Somalia, and those crew held by armed gunmen in Nigeria, a ransom is literally their only lifeline. To remove that as part of some political gambit would be, frankly, inhumane. It’s bad enough that so many people from developing nations have to endure lengthy captivity in horrific conditions to begin with, but removing hope as well? No, that would be morally unacceptable to say the least.



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