Select Committee on Transport Eighth Report

Annex 1: Glossary

Organisations and roles

There are a number of key organisations involved in tracking piracy and assisting in suppressing it:

  • Government (UK and other)- National Governments formulate policies to tackle piracy and develop strategies to take forward the fight against piracy. They also implement internationally agreed measures such as the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code. National Governments are responsible for prosecuting those who commit crimes within their national (territorial) waters.

  • International Maritime Bureau (IMB) - The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) is a specialised division of the International Chamber Of Commerce (ICC). The IMB is a non-profit making organisation, established in 1981 to act as a focal point in the fight against all types of maritime crime and malpractice. One of the IMB's principle areas of expertise is in the suppression of piracy. Concerned at the alarming growth in the phenomenon, this led to the creation of the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre in 1992. The Centre is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It maintains a round-the-clock watch on the world's shipping lanes, reporting pirate attacks to local law enforcement and issuing warnings about piracy hotspots to shipping.

  • International Maritime Organization (IMO) - The IMO was set up at an international conference in Geneva in 1948, which adopted the IMO Convention. The Convention came into force in 1958 and the Organization met for the first time in 1959. The purposes of the Organization, as summarized by Article 1(a) of the Convention, are 'to provide machinery for cooperation among Governments in the field of governmental regulation and practices relating to technical matters of all kinds affecting shipping engaged in international trade; to encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning maritime safety, efficiency of navigation and prevention and control of marine pollution from ships'. The Organization is also empowered to deal with administrative and legal matters related to these purposes. The IMO's first task was to adopt a new version of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the most important of all treaties dealing with maritime safety. This was achieved in 1960. The IMO is implementing a long-term anti-piracy project, which began in 1998. To assist in anti-piracy measures, IMO issues reports on piracy and armed robbery against ships submitted by Member Governments and international organisations.

  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) - NATO is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on 4 April 1949. In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means.

  • Royal Navy - The Royal Navy of the United Kingdom is the 'senior service' of the British armed services, being the oldest of its three branches. From about 1692 to World War II, it was the largest and most powerful navy in the world. Officially, the Royal Navy is only one component of the Naval Service, which also includes the Royal Marines, the Royal Naval Reserve, etc. In common usage, however, the whole service is referred to as the Royal Navy.

  • United Nations (UN) - The UN officially came into existence on 24 October 1945 when the United Nations Charter was ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and a majority of other 45 signatories. The Charter is the constituting instrument of the UN, setting out the rights and obligations of Member States, and establishing the organisation's organs and procedures. The purposes of the UN, as set forth in the Charter, are to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations; to cooperate in solving international economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems and in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in attaining these ends. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was signed in 1982; this sets out the internationally-accepted definition of piracy on the high seas.

  • United States Coastguard - the US Coastguard traces its history back to 1790. The coastguard is one of the United States' five Armed Services. Its mission is to protect the public, the environment, and US economic interests - in the nation's ports and waterways, along the coast, on international waters, or in any maritime region as required to support national security.


It is helpful to understand the flagging system that operates in the shipping industry. Article 5 of SOLAS states that there should exist a `genuine link' between the ship and the state. In 1986, final agreement was reached on the UN Convention on Conditions for Registration of Ships. The Convention lays down basic principles on matters such as: functions of national administrations, the identification and accountability of ship owners, manning etc. Article 10 seeks to establish a `genuine link' by requiring owners to be incorporated or to have a principal business in the flag state. This is difficult to enforce because there are no effective sanctions.

A 'flag of convenience' is the name given to countries which are attractive to ship owners in terms of taxation, social legislation and safety or environmental standards. The term `flag of convenience' emerged in the practice of international shipping during the mid-1940s, when several countries, principally Panama, Liberia and Honduras, began to grant their flag to any foreign merchant ship for a specified payment, confining themselves merely to registering it. An international practice therefore developed whereby the flag reflected a minimal link of the ship with the flag State. The right to the flag was confirmed by documents specifying the nationality of the ship. Such ships came to be called `ships under a flag of convenience' and the countries trading in their flag, `open registration countries' or `flag of convenience countries'.

The provisions in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 relating to the registration of a British ship do not prevent British owners from taking advantage of a flag of convenience. All they need to do is form a company in the flag-of-convenience State and to direct it from a place within the United Kingdom. The ship must be owned by the company and the company's vessel may then be registered in and fly the flag of that State. The ship is then not a British ship because the company was not established under the laws of the UK.

Red Ensign

The most widely known British flag is the Red Ensign. In its original form the Red Ensign came into use as the Civil Ensign of England in about 1650. In its present form, however, the Red Ensign dates from the change to the Union of 1 January 1801, it was largely given into the care of the merchant service by an Order in Council dated 9 July 1864. The legislation regarding the hoisting of the Red Ensign is set out in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. Section 2 states that a British ship is entitled to fly the red ensign, but a ship is not required to do so.

UNCLOS definition of piracy

Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) uses the following definition:

Article 101 - UNCLOS

Piracy consists of any of the following acts:

any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed-

on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;

against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;

any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;

any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b) (Emphasis applied)

International Maritime Bureau definition of piracy

The majority of recorded incidents to date have, however, taken place in territorial waters and therefore fall outside the UNCLOS definition of piracy. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) uses a definition adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in a code of practice for the investigation of crimes of piracy and armed robbery against ships at the 74th meeting of its Maritime Safety Committee. This code of practice creates a distinction between piracy and armed robbery against ships:

An act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act.

This definition covers actual or attempted attacks whether the ship is berthed, at anchor, or at sea.[127] The IMB adopted this definition in 1992 when it set up its Piracy Reporting Centre. Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB, explained that the UNCLOS definition failed to encapsulate the problem of piracy as it was actually manifesting itself. This was why the IMB adopted the second, wider, definition.[128]

Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation

The SUA Convention was adopted in 1988 and came into force in March 1992. Amendments to the Convention and its related Protocol, were adopted by the Diplomatic Conference on the Revision of the SUA Treaties held from 10 to 14 October 2005. The amendments were adopted in the form of Protocols to the SUA treaties (the 2005 Protocols). The IMO gives details of what key amendments to articles 8, 11 and 12 will entail:

  • Article 8 of the SUA Convention covers the responsibilities and roles of the master of the ship, flag State and receiving State in delivering to the authorities of any State Party any person believed to have committed an offence under the Convention, including the furnishing of evidence pertaining to the alleged offence. A new Article 8bis in the 2005 Protocol covers co-operation and procedures to be followed if a State Party desires to board a ship flying the flag of a State Party when the requesting Party has reasonable grounds to suspect that the ship or a person on board the ship is, has been, or is about to be involved in, the commission of an offence under the Convention.

  • Article 11 covers extradition procedures. A new Article 11bis states that none of the offences should be considered for the purposes of extradition as a political offence. New article 11ter states that the obligation to extradite or afford mutual legal assistance need not apply if the request for extradition is believed to have been made for the purpose of prosecuting or punishing a person on account of that person's race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political opinion or gender, or that compliance with the request would cause prejudice to that person's position for any of these reasons.

  • Article 12 of the Convention requires States Parties to afford one another assistance in connection with criminal proceedings brought in respect of the offences. A new Article 12bis cover the conditions under which a person who is being detained or is serving a sentence in the territory of one State Party may be transferred to another State Party for purposes of identification, testimony or otherwise providing assistance in obtaining evidence for the investigation or prosecution of offences.[129]

International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea

The SOLAS Convention in its successive forms is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships. The first version was adopted in 1914, in response to the Titanic disaster, the second in 1929, the third in 1948 and the fourth in 1960. A completely new Convention was adopted in 1974 which included not only the amendments agreed up until that date but a new amendment procedure - the tacit acceptance procedure - designed to ensure that changes could be made within a specified (and acceptably short) period of time. As a result the 1974 Convention has been updated and amended on numerous occasions. The Convention in force today is sometimes referred to as SOLAS, 1974, as amended.

The main objective of the SOLAS Convention is to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment and operation of ships, compatible with their safety. Flag States are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with its requirements, and a number of certificates are prescribed in the Convention as proof that this has been done. Control provisions also allow Contracting Governments to inspect ships of other Contracting States if there are clear grounds for believing that the ship and its equipment do not substantially comply with the requirements of the Convention - this procedure is known as port State control.The current SOLAS Convention includes Articles setting out general obligations, amendment procedure and so on, followed by an Annex divided into 12 Chapters.

127   Ev 23 Back

128   Q 3 Back

129  Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 July 2006