As this article went to press, there were 680 people held at gunpoint in the Gulf of Aden: the crews of 30 merchant ships hijacked by Somali pirates. It may be weeks or even months before their ransom is negotiated, and they know there is little hope of rescue. For the 20,000 ships that sail the Gulf of Aden every year, kidnap by Somali pirates is a constant and growing threat. The world’s navies do have a presence here, but there are only around 40 warships attempting to patrol an area of ocean one-and-a-half times the size of Europe. To stem its heavy losses, the insurance industry is attempting to establish what has been billed as a “private navy” to guard commercial shipping – unprecedented, controverisal and extremely complex under international and maritime law, as I found out in this article for Insurance Times.