As anyone who has looked at maritime piracy will know, it is a criminal endeavor that is all about money, especially the money to be garnered by holding crews, vessels and cargoes for ransom. And, as an economic criminal activity, if no one pays the pirates they will eventually move on to some other more profitable things. This is a bit of a simplification, but not far off the general mark, and it is one of the reasons that I have felt that those in the shipping industry should not pay ransoms (as well as taking more effective preventive measures to safeguard their personnel).
At present, though, it remains a difficult proposition to take because ransoms are being paid and if you've ever sailed with mariners through piracy-prone waters, as I have, this view means you are potentially relegating those you know to being incarcerated by criminals in dire circumstances.
In a worst case scenario situation, they'll hopefully only be held for a few weeks or months. But then there is the ongoing case of Rachel and Paul Chandler. The British yachters have been held by Somali pirates since last October 22, spending over seven months in captivity. The couple have made another plea through the media to have the British government help them, and one has to wonder whether something can't be done to free them.
The case of the Chandlers raises all kinds of questions about how we should deal with pirates. For instance, there is the fact that these two older British sailors have been held for seven months with little chance their family or friends can pony up a hefty ransom to free them. So maybe the British government should intercede and repatriate the couple. Maybe a campaign to raise awareness of their plight would help force the British government to do something. But, then again, wouldn't that just play into the pirates' hands, and embolden them to attack more yachters?
Maybe some of those naval forces in the region could swoop in and rescue the couple, doing what Jack Bauer does on 24 each hour. But some might remember the French response to their citizens captured by Somali pirates a year ago (see here), which ended with the master of the yacht Le Tanit killed.
This is a difficult and unique case, and I have no complete solutions. But it's the first time in a while that I have actually thought that maybe the ransom should be paid to free the Chandlers.