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Was it right to pay the ransom to Somali pirates?

Judith Tebbutt is free, but ransoms raise some impossible moral dilemmas

By on Thursday, 22 March 2012

Judith Tebbutt, who was freed this week STR/AP/Press Association Images

Judith Tebbutt, who was freed this week STR/AP/Press Association Images

The kidnappers were Somali pirates who raided Kiwayu using speedboats. This is not the first time that British people have been kidnapped by Somali pirates. You may remember the case of the couple who were sailing round the world and whose boat was captured near the Seychelles. Paul and Rachel Chandler were taken on October 23 2009 and spent more than a year in captivity. They were released at a place called Adado,  which is where Mrs Tebbutt was released too. It is not inconceivable that Mrs Tebbutt and the Chandlers were held by the same people.

There is another thing that the two cases have in common. It seems that Mrs Tebbutt’s son paid US $1.1 million to secure her release; in the case of the Chandlers, the sum paid is supposed to be in the region of three quarters of a million US dollars.

Piracy in the waters off Somalia is a problem that will not go away and the payment of such substantial ransoms means that such piracy is profitable. Of course one is glad that the Chandlers and Mrs Tebbutt are now safe, but the payment of ransoms to criminals will surely encourage more piracy in the future. Was it right to pay up? It might well have been understandable, but was it morally right? I cannot see how it can have been, but I dread to think how I would have acted had I been in the shoes of Mrs Tebbutt’s son.

What do you think? And if it is wrong to pay ransoms to pirates, what should our government do about it? Ought they to make the payment of ransoms by private individuals illegal?

  • guest
  • Anonymous

    I am not sure why Fr Lucie-Smith thinks that paying this ransom may have been immoral. I believe we have a moral duty to look after the basic needs of our families first; and the immediate urgent need of Mrs Tebbutt would come ahead of any hypothetical duties to others who may or may not be more likely to be kidnapped as a result of the payment of a ransom.

    Does Fr Lucie-Smith believe that I have a moral duty always to act so that the greatest good can come to the greatest number, even if it were to mean my mother would be murdered? I certainly do not agree with that view.

    What if I had an unexpected windfall of £5,000? I would probably do most good with that money for the greatest number of people if I gave it to a charity helping those who are desperately poor in Somalia. Does that mean it would be immoral for me to spend it on a wonderful holiday for my family?

  • daclamat

    None of your business. You’re dipping your toe in the muddy waters of instant wisdom: Isn’t your stipend enough that you have to dash off an insightful pieace at the drop of a biretta? In April 1979 I worked at the release of hostages from the bloodied hands of Idi Amin. It would have been easy if a few quid could have closed the deal. I’m still traumatised.

  • Edwardmyesse


    My name is Edward. I come from Kenya. My own son was abducted by the Al Shabaab in January last year and has not been released to date. It is traumatizing. Please get in touch with me using email so that we can share this nasty experience.