Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 555)



Mr Howarth

  540. *** ?
  (Commodore Dickson) No. ***. I can assure you that merchant ships tend not to pay too much attention ***. We have enough difficulty encouraging them to pay the right levels of attention to what is happening in front of them. I am pretty sure she was not and she certainly would not have ***. They do not carry the sort of sensors to recognise that. Those were the mechanics of the process. Your question was really about the lessons and that is what I was coming to. From the Ministry of Defence's point of view we would probably, it is safe to say, like to have ***, though in terms of the ***. We can operate very easily within those times. No protracted search was required ***. The lessons report is still being worked on and Mr Davenport's secretariat is very much involved in the work. I hesitate to say that it is again another department's lead but we are very much involved in that. From our point of view, probably the main initial lesson is that in terms of counter-terrorism, whether it is a hijack threat or something similar, there tends to be a ***. Something happens and then there is a buildup, *** and then at the end of a protracted period there ***. What we have probably learned is about this and what we need to focus on is that it is much quicker. We are back to the warning time, not perhaps the seconds or the minutes we were hearing about for the business of a rogue aircraft and that is certainly the focus of the work which Mr Mann has been leading in looking at rogue shipping and so on, what we need to put in place to ***. This one was certainly contained. The ship was intercepted very early and we had the capability to do something earlier ***. Overnight she was never closer than *** for instance. We intercepted her *** and followed her up through there to just beyond ***. She was intercepted and taken straight back in there. Certainly from the military point of view there was never any difficulty or danger. There is probably just a hint that we had been a bit tardy and let her run a little far up the Channel, but I can reassure you on that point: it was not the case.

Mr Crausby

  541. What was she suspected of? What were you looking for?
  (Commodore Dickson) I would need to look for help there.
  (Mr Davenport) ***.

Mr Hancock

  542. Sticking with the Nisha for a moment, the reports at the time suggested that there was well documented intelligence *** ?
  (Commodore Dickson) I did say earlier that one of the lessons just from a Ministry of Defence point of view is that we would always like as much notice as possible ***

  543. There is a pain barrier, is there not?
  (Commodore Dickson) ***..

  544. The other suggestion was that at the time you were looking at the Nisha ***. Is that true or not true?
  (Brigadier Houghton) May I throw some light on this? Clearly there is a delicacy about the nature of some of the intelligence but the nature of the intelligence related to ***.

  545. ***, one was physically searched by us. What do we know about the whereabouts or ***?
  (Brigadier Houghton) ***. I do not know where you got that figure from. I *** . Concurrent to all this, but we are not the authoritative source and it will perhaps come out in some of the Home Office lessons learned, is that the nature of ***, which is why at the last oral session I used the phrase a run-out.
  (Commodore Dickson) ***.


  546. *** ?
  (Commodore Dickson) Yes, I think that is right.
  (Mr Bowen) It is completely inappropriate anyway ***.

Mr Hancock

  547. Last Sunday, just to test it out, knowing you were coming, I was out on a cruiser in Portsmouth Harbour alongside at least half a dozen of Her Majesty's ships. I could have touched the sides. Nobody interfered. No warnings. Nobody told me to go away. Nothing at all. I am on a 40ft high powered launch with six other people. No problem at all. We then went round and had lunch in Southampton and we were able to go alongside a huge tanker, a quarter-of-a-million-tonne tanker tied up at Fawley and have some photographs taken alongside that and then continued down to the container port in Southampton. No problem at all. No attempt to tell us to get away from the ships, no radio intercept or anything, but listening all the time to the coastguards who were warning about lots of other things but nothing about "Please keep away from these ships". Amazing. No change at all since you were last with us, which surprised me, because I actually thought you might have tried to beef it up. My final question related to mines. In the Gulf War the Iraqis rather cleverly deployed mines which they put in boxes and then covered with ox blood which very quickly became contaminated with sea life and became very, very difficult to detect. Economically they were a very powerful weapon. With a weapon like that deployed in a very busy harbour you would only need one to explode to suggest there were more and it could degenerate very quickly into absolute chaos. Would we able to deal with the mine situation if a mine were dropped in Southampton Water close to the Fawley oil terminal which could cripple a tanker in Southampton Water and bring the whole dock to a standstill, or in the middle of Portsmouth Harbour which would stop the Navy operating or in Plymouth Sound? I am interested to know what you are doing about your seaborne defence and what we have in the way of capability to get on top of that situation?
  (Commodore Dickson) I can certainly deal with the capability. I am aware not only with ourselves but in the evidence session you had with Mr Clark that you were talking about this with the Ministry of Defence police and there lies the responsibility for that seaward defence. We come back to this whole issue of freedom of the use of Portsmouth and Southampton, hugely busy areas with commercial shipping, but also pleasure shipping. If no-one told you to stop doing this, I am happy to do it now and to tell you "Stop doing this, Mr Hancock".

  548. I was hoping to be told "Go Away" by somebody.
  (Commodore Dickson) I understand. The fact is that I spoke to the Queen's Harbourmaster down there and to the Naval Base Commander and our reaction and our posture in terms of our defence is based on the level of threat and the level of threat is determined and we have different bikini levels with which you are familiar. ***.

  549. The upper deck sentries waved.
  (Commodore Dickson) Of course they will because your face is so well known in Portsmouth and you are only seen as a threat by a certain element of the community. The rules within Portsmouth, within the dockyard, are that you should not be approaching within 50 metres of warships and those are the promulgated rules. You know well the little pleasure boats which take trippers round there and they would be very disappointed if they were kept at arm's-length. How to deal with these threats? We could put a gate across Portsmouth Harbour. We could build a fence around the territorial waters. These are not realistic measures and you have to deal with a threat at a conscious level. There is an element of risk because you may not know there is a threat until afterwards and that is all part of this intelligence process, gathering it, making careful assessments and setting your level of vigilance at something which is sustainable and allows normal life to go on. In terms of capability, what you do have to be able to do is react to things. First of all you have to know about it and when you know about it, then you can do something about it. We can react to incidents in that local area ***. There is any number. In your questions previously you asked us to list all the other things, essentially list the unexpected or list the things with which we could not deal and it is a process and an awful lot of this thought process has been gone through in the work which Bruce Mann has been leading. This whole business of *** . That may not reassure you but if the threat level is increased and the bikini state is increased I would encourage you not to go sailing too close.

Jim Knight

  550. I am particularly keen on one of those asymmetric threats. My constituency includes substantial oil exploration off Poole Harbour and local authorities there arguing about any kind of contingency to deal with that because of resources. I am very concerned to know whether you think there is a terrorist threat to oil rigs, that kind of thing and whether armed forces are contributing towards defending against that threat.
  (Commodore Dickson) It has been one of the long-standing issues, in fact the beginning of oil and gas exploration was the genesis of some of the maritime counter-terrorism elements. I remember a series of exercises right from the late 1970s, *** and that series of exercises, dealing with exactly that, *** . That has been something which has been long practised. We have referred before to this business of MACA and MACP and so on and we deal very closely with the various chief constables. We continue to exercise it regularly and it is the basis of the organisation which we have been looking to and how we might adapt it for the threat, although that is something we have continually updated.

  551. I am always reassured that the SBS are in Poole Harbour.
  (Commodore Dickson) Absolutely.
  (Mr Davenport) These plans are maintained and regularly ***.

Mr Crausby

  552. On a more general basis, what discussions have you had with European allies about the new threats? Are there co-ordinated procedures for dealing with threats of airborne or seaborne attack and are those procedures on a NATO or EU basis?
  (Commodore Dickson) I am not sure how comprehensively I shall be able to deal with that, but my own level of discussion with NATO allies and all the other allies in the coalition has been more focused on the campaign outside the country. It is something we stressed the last time that in terms of home land defence the best place to conduct it is at the source of the terrorism and that is where our activities and our efforts have been very much focused certainly without losing the ball at this end of it. That has been my own involvement and I do not think I could help in any detail.
  (Mr Mann) In the time available, I shall not run through all the things we are looking at, although I can deal with that, if you want, in later questions. We are looking at a range of measures for enhancing capabilities, whether it is what we prefer,***. In some circumstances that will involve co-operation in accordance with existing well-practised procedures with other authorities, depending where that ship is. That is an issue we are looking at in the work we are doing.
  (Mr Bowen) Likewise on the air side, the need within NATO to engage nationally has been generally recognised and most of the NATO nations are following the kind of thought process we have had ***. There is contact and a lot of that is through normal military contact, certainly some of it through NATO and in particular on the air side through NATO.
  (Air Commodore Cook) ***.

Mr Hancock

  553. ***?
  (Air Commodore Cook) *** —

  554. ***?
  (Air Commodore Cook) ***
  (Mr Bowen) ***

  555. Not through the NATO chain of command?
  (Mr Bowen) ***.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. We are pledged to secrecy, you can count on that. Thank you so much for coming in and giving us so much information.

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