Negotiating is both an art and a science. We study what works and what doesn’t in order to make sure that the next time that we are in a business situation in which somebody has something that we want, we are able to negotiate to get it. But what about pirates?
The newspapers are all abuzz about the pirates who are operating out of Somalia. So far this year, there have been 96 pirate attacks this year. 40 of these attacks have resulted in pirates boarding a ship, taking over control, and then demanding a ransom for the ship and its crew. World wide there have been 83 reported pirate attacks in the 3rd quarter alone.
When pirates capture a ship, they then demand a ransom in order to release it. These ransom demands are generally in the range of $1 – $2 million dollars. However, in the case of a Saudi oil tanker the ransom may have been as high as $15 million dollars.
What is a ship owner to do if his ship is captured by pirates? Apparently a lot of them are calling Holman Fenwick Willan, a London maritime firm. HFW has 6 lawyers who are currently working on pirate cases. Ashby Jones wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal in which HFW stated that they are working on “over a dozen” of the 20 pirate hijackings that have occurred in the Somalia area.
So just how does one negotiate with pirates? At HFW, their first job after being notified of a pirate highjacking is to calm their customer’s fears – nobody seems to know how to react to this sort of thing.
The next step is straight out of the negotiators handbook – do some research. HFW then works to find out just where the hijacked ship was registered, oh, and where exactly the hijacking occurred. This will set boundaries around the negotiations and will determine what laws are in play and will determine who is liable.
The issue of paying a ransom is, of course, a big deal. One key question that the negotiator needs to resolve right off the bat is if it is even legal to pay a ransom. It turns out that under U.K. law, paying a ransom IS legal and that’s important because for some reason most marine insurers are located in England.
The actual negotiations with the pirates are, to put it mildly, stressful. The negotiations are conducted by negotiators that HFW obtains for their clients. Forget suits and ties, this special breed of negotiators generally come from the miltary special forces. Probably the right men (I think that I can be sexist here) for the job.
Once a deal has been struck and the ship has been returned to the crew, the negotiations are not over. Indeed, they are often just beginning. The boat owners will now start to negotiate with the firms who were shipping cargo on the boat in order to get them to reimburse them for part of the ransom that was paid. These negotiations can drag on for a very long time.
We are all privledged to live in the 21st Century; however, sometimes aspects of the 1800’s, such as pirates, intrude into our world. Thankfully the negotiation skills that have been developed over the centuries serve us just as well now as they did then.
If you were called on to negotiate with pirates, what research would you do? Do you think that they would have the power in the negotiation or would you? Would creating a solution with mutual satisfaction be important to you in this type of deal? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.