This paper presents both sides of the debate over whether States should allow payment of ransoms to pirates. United States Executive Order 13536 and other recent national and international legislation have brought increased awareness to this issue.
This paper does not attempt to settle the ransom debate, but instead highlights the key issues, which perhaps will inspire progress in the fight to curb piracy. In their simplest distillations the positions are the pro-ransom stance advocating use of all means available to limit immediate threats of violence and disaster; versus the antiransom stance advocating use of all means available to limit acts of piracy over a longer term. Maritime industry practitioners assert that paying ransoms are the only tool available once a ship has been hijacked. Paying ransoms, they claim, minimizes risks of escalated violence, revenue liability, and environmental disaster. Those individuals/States opposed to paying ransoms believe that each ransom payment fuels and perpetuates the menace of piracy and that the eventual outcome of this escalation would likely be military intervention. In the final section of this paper, we briefly examine recent legislation and a small sample of international views that illustrate the practical complexity of ransom policies. A reader unfamiliar with the laws and opinions concerning this issue may find it useful to read this section before jumping into the arguments.