Piracy off the coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  Over the last four years, piracy off the coast of Somalia has become an international phenomenon, plaguing shipping in the Indian Ocean and resisting attempts by the international community to contain it. Despite a high level international response that has included nine UN Security Council resolutions and three different multi-national naval operations, the numbers of vessels affected each year keeps growing: in 2007, there were 55 attempted and successful attacks by Somali pirates. By 2010, that had almost quadrupled to 219. Over the same period, over 3,500 seafarers have been held hostage, and 62 have been killed.[1]

2.  In January 2011, Jack Lang, a former French Foreign Minister who now advises the UN on piracy, warned that Somali pirates were becoming the "masters" of the Indian Ocean.[2] The first three months of this year saw piracy attacks worldwide hit an all time high, largely driven by piracy off the coast of Somalia. From January to March 2011, the International Chamber of Shipping recorded 97 by Somali pirates, averaging more than one a day. Fifteen ships were successfully hijacked and 299 crewmen taken hostage. The rise in attacks coincided with an increase in violence, with seven seafarers killed and 34 injured worldwide.[3] We note that some observers have attributed the recent rise in piracy off the west coast of Africa in the Gulf of Guinea to copycat attacks, and that this is also a concern. However, while lessons should be learned from the experience with Somali piracy, such as the importance of swift intervention, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has on the whole followed a different model to that of Somali piracy.

3.  On 10 June 2011, the Committee announced its inquiry into the FCO's response to this disturbing phenomenon. It had the following terms of reference:

The Foreign Affairs Committee has announced that the Committee will examine the role of the FCO in support of UK and international action to combat the increasing levels of piracy off the coast of Somalia. In particular, the Committee will look at:

  • The adequacy of international and domestic law and jurisdiction
  • Co-ordination at the international level, particularly the UN
  • Consular assistance, including the UK's policy on the payment of ransoms
  • FCO support for anti-piracy projects on land in Somalia
  • UK naval involvement in EU, NATO and other anti-piracy operations.

As part of this inquiry, the Committee took evidence from representatives of the insurance and shipping industries, experts on marine law and on Somalia, British victims of Somali piracy, the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and the Ministry of Defence, as well as the Minister with responsibility for counter piracy. The Committee also conducted a visit to the Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood and received briefing from staff of one of the multinational counter-piracy naval operations, EUNAVFOR's Operation Atalanta.

4.  We note the House of Lords' European Union Committee 2009 report on piracy, which focused on the EU Operation Atalanta, and we have no wish to duplicate its work.[4] This report will focus on the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK Government's contribution to international counter-piracy efforts.

1   "Deaths of seafarers in Somali pirate attacks soar", Reuters, 20 June 2011, reuters.com Back

2   "In Race between Pirates and International Community, Pirates Clearly Winning, Secretary-General's Top Legal Adviser on Piracy Warns Security Council", Department of Public Information, Security Council , 6473rd Meeting (AM), 25 January 2011, un.org/news Back

3   "Attacks off the Somali coast drive piracy to record high, reports IMB", International Chamber of Commerce, 14 April 2011, icc-ccs.org Back

4   European Union Committee, 12th Report of Session 2009-10, Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta, HL103  Back

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 5 January 2012