The human rights and maritime law implications of a piracy ransom ban for international shipping

Sofia Galani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Piracy for ransom remains a significant maritime security threat adversely affecting the interests of the shipping industry, maritime trade and the welfare of seafarers. The profits made by pirates through ransoms have made a number of states, including the UK, argue in favour of an absolute ban on ransom payments to pirates. These proposals are heavily influenced by similar policies adopted in the context of terrorist hostage-taking in which it is often argued that ransoms sustain terrorism, and therefore an absolute ban on terrorist financing must be imposed in an effort to eliminate terrorist attacks. However, this article argues that maritime piracy for ransom operates in a strictly commercial environment that is fundamentally different from terrorism, and therefore a ransom ban could cause more loopholes and practical problems than it could actually resolve. The examination of the current policies on ransom payments shows that there is no universal ban on piracy ransoms and that piracy ransom payments remain legal and compatible with public policy in the UK. It is also explained that a ban on ransom payments to pirates could have significant human rights implications for the protection of seafarers, who are the targets of the piracy for ransom model, and an absolute ransom ban could not be reconciled with the human rights obligations flag states have towards those held hostage on board their vessels. The economic cost of a ransom ban is also discussed and it is explained that a ban could increase the industry costs instead of reducing them. It is also argued that such ban cannot fit with the long-standing interpretation of the Marine Insurance Act 1906 reinforcing the overall conclusion that an absolute ban on ransom payments to pirates is not fit for purpose.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-46
Number of pages25
JournalMaritime Safety and Security Law Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017

Structured keywords

  • LAW Centre for International Law
  • LAW Human Rights Implementation Centre


  • piracy
  • seafarers
  • ransom ban
  • ransom payments
  • flag states
  • Marine Insurance Act 1906


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