BBC: The UK Firms Who Tackle Somali Pirates

The release of a UK hostage in Somalia has drawn attention to the British security firms which are increasingly dominating Somalia's lucrative anti-piracy industry.

It was a family ransom which ultimately secured the release of Hertfordshire social worker Judith Tebbutt this week, but there have been media reports of negotiators who paved the way for the 56-year-old's safe return.

With the UK government saying it refuses to talk to kidnappers, the door has opened for private security firms to fill the void in this troubled African country.

The Times reported that specialist lawyers at one such company, Control Risks, spent months thrashing out the deal - but the firm will not confirm or deny helping free the mother.

Andy Bearpark, director of the British Association of Private Security Companies, says negotiators are making "enormous" amounts of money, but carry a heavy burden.

'Capability gap'

"It's a relationship of trust, and as in all negotiations, it's a question of little steps, where you build up that relationship," he said.

"It's an art, or skill, or science in its own right, which exists regardless of participants. The fact that one is morally reprehensible is irrelevant, it's a game between two sides."

He says you have to be "very careful" you are talking to the right people, and that you can prove the hostage is alive and capable of being delivered.

The pirates typically target commercial shipping companies more than individuals, as they are more likely to get paid through their insurers.