Piracy off the coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Impact of piracy off the coast of Somali

1.  Piracy off the coast of Somalia has escalated over the last four years and is a major concern for the UK. The threat is not primarily to UK ships as very few have been captured. Rather, the threat is to the UK's economy and security. Piracy affects the UK's banking, insurance and shipping industries, and threatens the large volume of goods which are transported to the UK by sea. In light of these concerns, and as a state whose strengths and vulnerabilities are distinctly maritime, the UK should play a leading role in the international response to piracy. (Paragraph 20)

Response from industry: self defence

2.  We commend the maritime industry's work on Best Management Practices and note their success in reducing ships' vulnerability to attack. (Paragraph 24)

3.  We conclude that the Government should engage with the shipping industry to explore options for the industry to pay for vessel protection detachments of British naval or military personnel on board commercial shipping. (Paragraph 25)

Private armed security guards

4.  We recommend that the Government provide in its response to this report any assessment it has made of the likelihood of smaller vessels transiting the area, and to comment upon fears that pirates will increasingly focus attacks on smaller and less well-defended vessels and vessels carrying inflammable materials. (Paragraph 28)

5.  We conclude that for too long the Government failed to respond to the urgent need for armed protection. However, we welcome the Prime Minister's recent announcement that the Government's position would be reversed and that private armed guards will be permitted on UK-flagged vessels. We agree that the evidence in support of using private armed security guards is compelling and, within legal limits and according to guidance, shipowners should be allowed to protect their ships and crew by employing private armed security guards if they wish to do so. (Paragraph 31)

6.  The Government should in its response to this report assess the risk that private armed security guards, and possibly the masters of ships on which they operate, might face extradition to another state following an incident involving the use of weapons, particularly where that state may not be able to assure a fair trial. The Government should set out the steps it intends to take to minimise this risk. (Paragraph 36)

7.  We conclude that the guidance on the use of force, particularly lethal force, is very limited and there is little to help a master make a judgement on where force can be used. The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not. Guidance over the use of potentially lethal force should not be left to private companies to agree upon. We recommend that the change of policy be accompanied by clear, detailed and unambiguous guidance on the legal use of force for private armed guards defending a vessel under attack. This guidance should be consistent with the rules that would govern the use of force by members of the UK armed forces in similar circumstances, and should include:

  • the circumstances in which private armed security guards faced with a clear threat of violence may respond with force, including lethal force, where proportionate and necessary, and
  • examples of a "graduated response" to an attack, including confirmation that nothing in UK law or the CPS guidance requires a victim of pirate attack to await an aggressor's first blow before acting in self-defence.

We recommend that the Government take this forward as a matter of urgency, as we understand that private armed guards are already being deployed on some UK-flagged vessels. (Paragraph 37)

8.  We recommend that the Government work with the naval operations to issue clear guidance for private armed guards on what to do in the event of a naval intervention, and to provide the Committee with a copy of this guidance in its response to this report. (Paragraph 38)

9.  We conclude that it is vital to ensure that armed guards are properly trained and deployed in sufficient numbers. We urge the Government in its response to this report quickly to bring forward proposals for a national regulatory structure (whether governmental or industry based self-regulation) that would provide a measure of quality assurance. (Paragraph 40)

10.  We conclude that the Government should take a more proactive approach to facilitate an effective and safe legal regime for the carriage and use of weapons for the purposes of deterring piracy. We recommend that the Government actively engage with port and coastal states surrounding Somalia to establish an agreement on the carriage and transfer of weapons by private armed guards so that they can be securely removed from vessels once they have exited the high risk area. (Paragraph 43)

Naval response: policing the Indian Ocean

11.  We conclude that a unified command structure, while it may be the ideal, is of a lower priority than securing the widest possible international participation in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, and the maximum number of assets patrolling the waters. The Government should be rigorous, however, in eliminating any duplication between operations. (Paragraph 47)

12.  We conclude that naval forces have so far been unable to make the oceans safe from Somali piracy. Recognising that a substantial increase in conventional naval and air assets is unlikely, we urge the Government to think of novel ways of detecting skiffs and thus improving response times to incidents in Indian Ocean, by exploring technologies such as micro satellite surveillance and/or lighter than air persistent wide area surveillance, such as that being developed by US forces for Afghanistan. (Paragraph 52)

13.  We conclude that the cautious approach to military operations when hostages are involved is appropriate and agree that protecting the safety of hostages is paramount. However, if the use of violence against hostages continues to increase this may change the balance of risk in favour of military intervention in the future. (Paragraph 54)

14.  Implementation of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is not a matter for us, but we urge the Government to continue to provide at least one vessel to counter piracy operations at all times, and to host the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EUNAVFOR) and NATO HQs at Northwood for the life of those operations. We recommend that in its response to this report the Government comment upon concerns expressed by the UN Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia that the provision of military forces is likely to fall short. (Paragraph 57)

15.  We recommend that the Foreign Office provide in its response to this report an update on the Italian prosecution against the pirates captured by UK forces following their successful boarding of the hijacked ship the Monte Cristo. (Paragraph 62)

16.  We conclude that simply returning suspected pirates to their boats or to land, while it may temporarily disrupt their activities, provides little long term deterrence and has demonstrably failed to prevent an annual increases in both the number of pirates going to sea and in the number of attacks. We urge the Government to keep naval forces' Rules of Engagement under regular review to ensure that they can respond flexibly to changes in the pirates' tactics. (Paragraph 63)

International co-ordination

17.  We conclude that the profile of international efforts needs to be raised further. We welcome the Prime Minister's announcement that the UK will host an international conference and recommend that in its response to this report, the Government provide further information on the conference, including details of who will be invited and what it expects to achieve. (Paragraph 69)

The UK's comprehensive response: cross-departmental co-ordination

18.  We conclude that the Government's comprehensive approach to tackling the problem of Somali piracy aimed at solutions on land and at sea is the correct one. However, we recommend that the FCO provide in its response to this report a statement clarifying which department is responsible for each aspect of the Government's response to Somali piracy, and which department has the overall lead on the UK's response to piracy off the coast of Somalia. (Paragraph 73)

Bringing pirates to justice

19.  We conclude that gathering evidence to secure a successful prosecution for piracy is challenging. However, not all claims made by the Government about the difficulty in securing evidence were wholly convincing: when pirates are observed in boats with guns, ladders and even hostages, it beggars belief that they cannot be prosecuted, assuming that states have the necessary laws in place and the will to do so. We urge the Government to pursue alternative means of securing suitable evidence (such as photos or video recordings of pirates with equipment, and supplying witness testimony by videolink). We urge the Government to engage with regional states to agree consistent and attainable rules on evidence required for a piracy prosecution. (Paragraph 81)

20.  We recommend that the Government take steps to ensure that all aspects of international piracy are adequately covered by UK law. (Paragraph 84)

21.  We conclude that the Government was right to oppose the establishment of an extra-territorial Somali court as proposed in the Jack Lang report to try Somali pirates in a third country. We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this report its views on the more recent proposals for specialised anti-piracy courts established within regional states under ordinary national law. (Paragraph 92)

22.  We recommend that the FCO take more concerted action to re-establish the transfer arrangement with Kenya, and should be prepared to exert more pressure on other states in the region to accept piracy suspects for prosecution. We recommend that the Government provide to the Committee in its response to this report a list of current transfer agreements and those under negotiation, and with an update on its efforts to re-establish the Kenyan Memorandum of Understanding. (Paragraph 99)

23.  We recommend that the FCO include in its future agreements with Kenya and other states a right to monitor the status of detainees it transfers from its control to those states to prosecute for piracy. (Paragraph 101)

24.  We recommend that in its response to this report the Government provide the Committee with an explanation of why jurisdictional issues were seen as an obstacle to the UK prosecuting pirates for their role in the Chandlers' case. (Paragraph 106)

25.  We conclude that prosecuting pirates in local courts should remain the preferred option. However, we also conclude that there is no legal reason for the UK not to assert jurisdiction and try pirates in our national courts, and we urge the Government to consider this as an option if no other country will take suspected pirates captured by UK ships. (Paragraph 107)

26.  We conclude that pre- and post-sentencing transfer agreements are a pragmatic approach but there are too few of them. We recommend that the Government pursue more vigorously its efforts to increase prison capacity in the region and in Somalia itself. We also recommend that the Government investigate whether it would be feasible to transfer pirates from the UK back to Somalia to serve their sentences after prosecution in the UK. (Paragraph 110)


27.  We conclude that the fact that ransom payments in 2011 have already totalled $135m, another all-time record, should be a matter of deep concern to the British Government and to the entire international maritime community. We conclude that the Government should not pay or assist in the payment of ransoms but nor should it make it more difficult for companies to secure the safe release of their crew by criminalising the payment of ransoms. (Paragraph 115)

Financial tracking

28.  We conclude that the Government has been disappointingly slow to take action on financial flows relating to ransom payments, particularly given the information available from British companies involved. (Paragraph 118)

29.  The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) should make it a priority to address rumours of ransom money making its way into the UK's financial system. (Paragraph 118)

30.  We conclude that the Government's laudable principle not to become involved in ransom payments should not extend to the point of failing to collect, analyse, and act upon information concerning ransom payments made by British companies or private individuals. We recommend that the Government establish a mechanism through which intelligence and information about ransom payments and pirate groups and negotiations can be communicated to the Government by those involved. (Paragraph 119)

31.  We recommend that the FCO publish details on the new maritime intelligence and information co-ordination centre, including its mandate, funding, and when it is expected to begin operations. (Paragraph 120)

International response to the crisis in Somalia

32.  The UK should be very wary of international claims to deliver a solution on land in Somalia. International capacity to rebuild a Somali state is extremely limited. We conclude that the UK should continue to act through the United Nations and European Union programmes to pursue peace and stability in Somalia. We urge the Government to push for a concerted international effort to capitalise on the African Union Mission in Somalia's (AMISOM) recent military gains against al-Shabab by supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in its efforts to extend its control, build the rule of law combat corruption and encourage development. (Paragraph 132)

UK response

33.  We recommend that the Government develop its engagement with civil society organisations in Somalia to strengthen local responsibility and involvement in international efforts to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. We recommend that in its response to this report, the Government provide more details of the community engagement projects which it announced in October 2011. (Paragraph 141)

FCO support for victims and families

34.  We recommend that the Government review the medium in which information on piracy such as travel warnings is released, in order to ensure that it is accessible to different users, including yachtsmen. We further recommend that the Government intensifies its efforts to draw to the attention of seafarers the information that is available on the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and NATO websites about specific sea areas at risk of pirate attack. (Paragraph 146)

35.  We recommend that the Government review its handling of the Chandlers' case to ascertain whether improvements could be made for the future, and we request that the Government present its conclusions in its response to this report. (Paragraph 149)

36.  We are disappointed that Paul and Rachel Chandler did not feel that their family was adequately supported during their ordeal. We recommend that the FCO review its communication and other procedures to provide support to family members of British hostages abroad, and provide its conclusions to the Committee in response to this report. (Paragraph 150)


37.  We conclude that for too long there has been a noticeable gap between the Government's rhetoric and its action. Despite nine UN Security Council resolutions and three multinational naval operations, the counter-piracy policy has had limited impact. The number of attacks, the costs to the industry and the price of the ransoms have all increased significantly since 2007. (Paragraph 154)

38.  We conclude that decisive action is now required on a number of fronts to contain the problem in the short to medium term, so that long term solutions can be found. We recommend that the FCO gives high priority to the international conference on piracy to be hosted by the UK in February 2012 and provides the Committee with a full and detailed account of decisions taken and UK and international actions that arise from it. (Paragraph 155)

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Prepared 5 January 2012