A ransom more than £1 million could be paid for the safe release of British couple if recent examples are anything to go by

Much has been made of Paul and Rachel Chandlers’s reported inability to pay any huge ransom demand that might be demanded by their Somali captors. Relatives are reported as stating that their boat is their main asset and that they are not a wealthy couple.

That, I believe, is irrelevant.

This isn’t about the couple’s ability to pay but the pressure that can be put on governments, corporations or insurers to meet an amount demanded. Those demands will have nothing to do with the worth of the yacht or the wealth of the individuals; I suspect the price on the Chandlers’s heads is a consideration of their value as British citizens.

I believe the pirates will be paid a very large sum by the British government. I also think that, provided there is no dithering in Whitehall, this will quickly secure their safe release.

The Somali captors and their now extremely wealthy overlords are sophisticated and experienced operators. They understand how to play governments off against each other. They are reported to have threatened to kill the crew of the captured ship if attempts are made to spring the British yachtsmen, and vice versa. They have learned a trick or two about hamstrung democracies.

The US and EU Naval forces operating in the area have studied the pirates’ modus operandi and believe that the risk to captives is very low and that the pirates are under instructions not to use violence.

Pirate gangs will put the price for a captured ship much higher than that of a yacht, but we are still talking about millions of dollars. They know from previous experience that governments prefer where possible to make large payments rather than risk military action and life and limb.

Military interventions are costly and not always successful, as was demonstrated earlier this year when a captured French skipper was shot dead during a firefight between the French Navy and pirates.

Two examples from last year illustrate the scale of ransoms. The ship Siruis Star was captured last November. It is owned by oil giant Aramco and was laden with a multi-million dollar cargo of crude oil when taken. That was obviously a major prize and the pirates accordingly made a massive demand. Allegedly, $300 million was paid for the ship and its 25 crew to be released.

The sliding scale for yachts is less but still likely to be a huge amount. The French superyacht Le Ponant was captured in April 2008 and her crew held captive in a Somalian port while ransom negotiations were made with the French government. They eventually paid a reported $2 million for the release of yacht and crew.