Piracy off the coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

6  Conclusion

151.  Since the end of the Second World War, vessels transiting the Indian Ocean have been relatively safe from attack. It is wholly unacceptable that a comparatively small number of criminal groups engaged in piracy have rendered the Indian Ocean a 'no go' area for smaller vessels such as yachts, and one in which larger shipping needs to hire private armed guards to guarantee safe passage.

152.  This year has seen a reduction in the number of successful attacks, and the surge in piracy attacks that was expected in autumn 2011 does not appear to have materialised. It remains to be seen whether this is indicative of an improving trend as a result of better defence and naval action, or whether it is merely a lull while pirates adapt to a changing situation. The fact that the number of attacks, hostages, and ships held, as well as the overall ransom figures, have all reached record highs at times this year should serve as a caution against any complacency in the UK's counter-piracy response.

153.  A combination of unarmed ships, owners that are willing to pay millions in ransom to have their ships returned, too few naval forces to respond, and relative impunity in Somalia for their crimes, has created a compelling business model for Somali pirates that offers enormous financial incentives and few real disincentives. It is commendable that the Government has proceeded through international co-operation, particularly in the swift establishment in 2008 of the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor which has effectively secured shipping in the Gulf of Aden. It does not appear, however, that subsequent international efforts have been as decisive, timely or effective in curbing Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, Somali pirates have proven nimble and adaptable to change. As a consequence, piracy off the coast of Somalia has proliferated and grown into a thriving business.

154.  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. The threat is not primarily against British merchant ships, very few of which have been successfully attacked, nor is it one of terrorism. It is rather that Somali piracy threatens the UK's economy through the banking, insurance and shipping industries, and the British and foreign flagged ships we depend upon for trade. Despite this, piracy is not a priority task for Royal Navy forces and the UK has at times barely dedicated even one ship to counter-piracy activities. The naval operations have been further limited by the failure to prosecute detained suspects and rules of engagement that required strengthening earlier this year.

155.  Looking forward, proposals focusing on pursuing financial transactions related to piracy have potential, and pursuing stability on land in Somalia is theoretically the solution, although UK and international leverage there is limited. Private armed guards seem to be the best way quickly to improve the situation, but the Government was slow to permit armed guards on UK shipping and its guidance lacks critical detail. 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.

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Prepared 5 January 2012