ODD JOBS

SEAN WOOLLERSON
PIRACY INSURER, JLT

My first job after university was with M&S, but I joined JLT about 20 years ago and now one of the big things I deal with is Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. I get calls in the middle of the night to tell me that a ship has been kidnapped – my wife thinks that I’ve wandered into a John Grisham novel.

About 22,000 ships go through the Gulf of Aden every year and we look after the interests of about 5,000, mostly tankers and gas carriers. These days more of them get ransom and kidnap insurance. Piracy has always been out there, it’s not a new phenomenon for us, but the ransom element has got worse since 2008.

We’ve had 10 ships taken over the past 18 months and we have a ship that has been taken at the moment. It’s been well over 100 days and we have a full crew on board.

In other kidnaps we have had a crew member shot and killed, and another had a bullet in his leg for 47 days and was running out of fresh water, with no antibiotics. We are dealing with real lives and it can be stressful, especially as the pirates seem to be getting more violent.

We have to be careful about talking about how we negotiate – we don’t want the pirates to know. But I can say that we select a security advisor, normally a former special forces person, and they advise us on how to negotiate the release.


They talk to the owners and the pirates. Our job is to raise the funds when the money is agreed on. So when a ship is taken we start the process of making sure that we are in a position to pay the ransom, we go to Lloyds and start talking to the underwriters and give them situation reports every day.

The pirates are desperate, but really what they are interested in is the cargo – they are not going out to kill people. This situation is going to carry on because their situation in Somalia is so bad, and the Gulf is so hard to patrol. Sometimes I think that it’s all a long way from ladies’ shoes.