While some governments see links between Somali pirates and al-Shabaab as providing grounds for banning ransoms, there is scant evidence to support these claims, according to Aegis Advisory director Dominick Donald.
Dr Donald said that the current concern of the insurance market is really political.
“Will the US decide that banning ransom payments is the silver bullet for dealing with the Somali pirate situation?” he asked. “If they do then they can interpret the evidence out there in such a way as to see a link.
“There are a lot of people out there who take discrete and separate things and try to make some kind of logic with them. There is no evidence out there that vessels have been taken by anyone but Somali pirates.”
Dr Donald highlighted several examples which could be used as evidence by someone who wished to make a case of a link between piracy and terrorism but then explained why this was not necessarily the case.
When hostages were kidnapped from Kenyan resorts, including Judith Tebbutt who has been released today after her son paid a ransom, the Kenyan government claimed that al-Shabaab was involved.
Mr Donald said the hostages were taken by sea and landed in a port which was considered to be al-Shabaab-controlled. However, he said that the hostages were more likely to have been kidnapped by criminal militias who would have been tolerated by al-Shabaab.
It is understood that some Somalis who are affiliated to al-Shabaab have taken small cuts of ransom payments — somewhere in the region of 5%-10% — but Mr Donald said these individuals were not terrorists.
“They are local powerbrokers and pirates pay them a cut to keep them happy and as a sign of respect. These people’s allegiances shift constantly so in the past they may not have been pro al-Shabaab and in the future the same might be true.
“In any case they are in no way involved in sending gangs out or in ransom negotiations.”
In October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council’s demining unit, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagen Thisted, were abducted in the north-central Galkayo area.
Mr Donald said that that they were likely to have been held by the same captors as the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were kidnapped from their yacht just off the Seychelles two years previously.
This again has been mooted as a link between piracy and al-Shabaab. However, Mr Donald said it is more likely that it is evidence of a secondary hostage market.
He explained: “The Somali business model depends on hijacking something of high value, the vessel, so the owner pays, and taking the crew so the owner pays quickly.
“If one leg of this fails then so does the business model. In the Chandlers’ case they were on a yacht and there was no chance of a swift or large ransom.
“It is the same for the aid workers, so the hostages are palmed off to a secondary market, to someone who doesn’t mind a more protracted