June 2 - At conferences across Europe, maritime piracy has been high on the agenda.

Ministers from G8 industrialised nations agreed at the weekend to work towards a legal framework for the trial of Somali pirates, seen as a major obstacle to policing the dangerous shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa.

Justice and interior ministers from the world's eight leading industrial powers, concluding a two-day meeting in Rome, pledged to help strengthen the criminal justice system in poor regions affected by piracy, such as east Africa and noted the need for agreements between countries that arrest pirates and those able to prosecute themoften Western nations with more developed judiciaries.

Several G8 countries are taking part in EU and NATO naval task forces combating piracy in one of the world's busiest shipping routes off the coast of Somalia, where the number of vessels hijacked by pirates has risen sharply in recent months.

But captured pirates present a judicial headache for Western nations, which often lack official jurisdiction. "We want to strengthen our ability to investigate and prosecute this crime and recover the assets illegally obtained through piracy," Italian Justice Minister Angelino Alfano, whose country chairs the G8 this year, told a news conference.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden is also high on the agenda at this year's 86th session of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) maritime safety committee - a London meeting which is due to finish on June 5.

According to reports in the international media, the packed agenda includes this discussion on piracy and armed robbery against ships off the coast of Somalia (along with a review of the latest statistics); the implementation of the long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) system; the development of goal-based standards for new ship construction; and the adoption of amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

At the recent Breakbulk Europe conference and exhibition, one of the main sessions sought to analyse and assess with delegates being warned that when negotiating with pirates, carriers should beware hidden costs Presenters described how, for shipowners and ship operators, negotiating the release of a hijacked ship, its crew and cargo, the actual ransom is just the beginning of what likely will be a much more expensive, drawn-out and complicated journey.

Lars Juhl, managing director and partner with Scan-Trans, gave a graphic description of the events which followed the hijacking of Scan-Trans' multipurpose vessel Amiya Scan, which was held for 30 days after being kidnapped off the Somali coast last May. Whilst the initial ransom demand - USD3 million - was negotiated down to USD1 million, Scan-Trans had spent USD5 million by the time the ship was freed.

We have not been able to receive a penny from insurance, said Mr Juhl.

Juergen Hahn, a Sworn Average Adjuster with Stichling Hahn Hilbirch, said that the problem is that there are no provisions under contracts of affreightment that deal with piracy. If these types of claims are not 
settled under general average, Hahn said, the industry will have to change all of its contracts of affreightment. "There is no solution other than that property owners settle the costs."

Dick van den Broek Humphrejj, general managing director and chairman of the European Shippers Council, indicated that shippers will not accept a new surcharge for piracy, especially if surcharges are simply compensation for higher insurance charges. Mr van den Broek Humphreji added that surcharges 
may be acceptable in unexpected and unforeseen circumstances, he said, but piracy along the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden is not unforeseen.