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  1st December 2008 - STAR MARITIME

Exmar: Payouts will spur hijackings

SHIPPING companies that quietly pay pirates’ ransoms to recover crew and cargo are only spurring more hijackings, according to Nicolas Saverys, chief executive of leading Belgian shipping company Exmar.

”As long as democracy will give in on this kind of blackmail, we’ll never have a solution,” he said,

The company ships 40% of the world’s seaborne ammonia and 10% of its liquefied petroleum gas.

Although they are loath to declare it, shipping firms - via their insurance companies - have paid between US$35mil and US$40mil in ransoms to pirates so far this year, according to an estimate by Roger Middleton, a Somalia expert at London’s Chatham House think-tank.

Saverys did not specify whether Exmar buys insurance to cover hijackings, but said he understood why many firms did. However deterrents, not payouts, are the only real solution, he said.

Tankers like Exmar’s, laden with valuable petrochemicals, are the most attractive to the cash-hungry Somali pirates operating in the treacherous Gulf of Aden.

The gulf, on the route between Europe and Asia, is one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors, but has been plagued by a rash of armed buccaneers this year.

While Exmar’s insurance premiums have yet to rise exceptionally as a result of the crime wave, the firm lost around US$100,000 because one of its vessels, meant to pass through the Gulf of Aden, was delayed for three days while awaiting a protective Nato-organised naval convoy, Saverys said.

”If the international community would act much more unanimously and much more strongly against these acts of piracy, they would disappear,” Saverys said.

The Belgian native, whose family has been in the maritime industry since 1828, said that instead of insurance payouts, he would prefer a return to the practices of past centuries, when pirates were hunted.

”I’m not saying we should do it in that way of course; the guy should receive a fair trial, but if he has participated in the act of piracy, he should be punished,” Saverys said.

“It is for each country to make its own decisions” regarding responses to piracy, said Lee Adamson, a spokesman for the United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation.

The IMO estimated that there have been more than 120 acts of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia so far this year.

At least 14 ships and 243 crew are still under pirate control, including the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star, the biggest tanker ever hijacked, which held as much as two million barrels of oil worth US$100mil. — Reuters


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