Piracy off the coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Chamber of Shipping[1]


1.  The international threat to innocent merchant ships and their crews from "piracy" has long been a key concern of the Chamber, although the majority of incidents prior to 2007 concerned robbery often with associated violence and the use of force, in ports and the territorial seas of third states. Since then, the rise in Somali piracy and the hijacking of major international trading merchant ships has represented an unprecedented development and escalation of the piracy threat—with increased frequency of attacks, successful hijackings and has led to the emergence of a Somali "business model" of holding ships and crews for ransom. These factors constitute a unique international piracy phenomenon which is proving very difficult to counter.

2.  UK government action, including early ministerial responses, on the Somali problem was positive and prompt. A clear FCO lead was established from the start and good cross-departmental dialogue and co-ordination of policy have been a notable feature, as have close liaison with industry and very strong civil/military operational links.

3.  The UK—both as an island and a maritime trading nation— is exposed to the risks of piracy owing to the high levels of essential imports of all types which transit the High Risk Area through the Gulf of Aden and across the Indian Ocean. In March 2011, an impact study jointly commissioned by the Chamber and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) to quantify the economic impacts of Somali piracy highlighted the UK's particular dependence and exposure to piracy and a copy has been sent to the Committee secretariat as background.

4.  The shipping industry believes the conduct of Operation Atalanta has been methodical and determined—and its leadership and several innovations inspired. The EUNAVFOR's Maritime Security Centre Horn Of Africa (MSCHOA) web-based reporting and FEXWEB military communication links are examples of this. The industry has placed on record in different fora on several occasions its appreciation for what has been delivered and achieved by the military.

5.  Regrettably, however, threat levels have not been reduced and the success of military operations in one area; the Gulf of Aden, have in recent months caused the piracy threat to be displaced and dispersed over a wider area. So for trade and merchant shipping there is now no longer a "safe way" through the Indian Ocean. At the same time there have been worrying developments in pirate tactics and an increasing use of violence.

6.  The industry accepts there are no easy or short-term solutions to the threat currently posed by Somali pirates. We are engaged in many strands of activity. The most obvious objectives are to:

—  Optimise vessel self-protection measures by implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs—Version3).

—  Improve Rules of Engagement and take action against "mother ships", from which skiffs operate, which have facilitated the spread of pirate attacks away from Somalia.

—  Optimise civil/military operational links and information flow including, threat, positional and incident reporting.

—  Address the concerns and confidence of seafarers and to reduce the risks to which they are exposed.

—  Call for the maintenance of Operation Atalanta, and other coalition force levels.

—  Support jurisdictional efforts and encourage UK prosecutions.

—  Support international, regional and national capacity-building.


7.  Chamber links were quickly established in December 2008 with the headquarters of EUNAVFOR and Operation Atalanta in Northwood and remain very strong. We support the location of the headquarters close to the shipping industry in London. Operational command has changed regularly and substantial time and effort has been involved in ensuring that the operational commanders are fully briefed on the industry aspects of counter-piracy.

8.  In addition, since 2008 Merchant Navy Liaison Officers (MNLOs) have been seconded from UK and other companies to work in the headquarters, alongside their military colleagues. This successful initiative provides vital commercial and operational advice and has been replicated in UK Maritime Trade Operations (MTO) Dubai where a second MNLO is now stationed.

9.  The Chamber has responded to the piracy threat through the UK's Shipping Defence Advisory Committee (SDAC), a joint industry/governmental committee established in 1937 and which has continued to provide a structure for the delivery of military/civil co-operation since then. The role of SDAC was recognised in the National Security Strategy (NSS) published in October 2010 and it continues to manage joined-up national inputs and responses on the Somali problem very effectively. The SDAC is co-chaired by the Chairman of the Chamber's Defence and Security Committee (currently Dr Grahaeme Henderson, Vice-President Shell Shipping) and Rear Admiral Philip Jones, Assistant Chief of Naval Staff.

10.  In addition, the Chamber has maintained engagement with relevant NATO and UN bodies including CMF and SHADE in Bahrain, the UN Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the Djibouti Code of Conduct and, most importantly, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) - both through the FCO and through international shipping associations such as the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF).

11.  Operationally, the industry-led Best Management Practices (BMPs) have proved to be effective in preventing successful attacks, but non-compliance with BMPs by a proportion of the world's fleet continues to be a serious problem. On almost every occasion, EUNAVFOR records show that captured vessels are not complying with the agreed reporting and self-protection requirements.


12.  The Chamber has strongly advocated the prosecution of captured pirates but has recognised the legal complexities. The repeated images of pirates being released without trial by naval forces, including by the Royal Navy, causes understandable derision. Were sufficient "British interests" present in a piracy incident in the future, the Chamber would want to see pirates either fast-tracked for prosecution in East Africa or prosecuted in UK.

13.  In the meantime, the industry will continue to assist the jurisdictional processes, which are being followed in Kenya and the Seychelles although the available capacity in those countries is understood to be extremely limited.

14.  An additional and unwelcome development for shipping companies in 2010 concerned US legislative actions to curtail piracy by means of an Executive Order signed by US President on 13 April, which has the potential to block payments to certain individuals on the grounds that they may be contributing to the conflict in Somalia; the order included the names of a few known pirates. The Chamber met at that time with the International Chamber of Shipping, Lloyds' Market Association, the International Group P & I Clubs and London marine hull and cargo insurers and dialogue established with the US authorities. This group remains very concerned that any attempt to prohibit the payment of ransoms would further endanger the seafarers held captive and any prohibition would serve only to drive ransom payments underground. The Chamber welcomed the UK Government's opposition to the ban and considers it essential that the Government should continue to support the industry's position. The situation is being carefully monitored with FCO and the insurance industry. No direct links are thought to exist between pirates or pirate groups and terrorist organisations and the industry believes military counter-piracy operations are distinct and should remain separate from anti-terrorist operations.

15.  We are not aware of any geographical spread or contagion of Somali piracy beyond the groups based and operating from Somalia. Were the Somali model to be replicated in another sea area, governments would need to act decisively to prevent the "model" taking root elsewhere.


16.  In 2006 the Chamber made a submission to the Transport Committee inquiry into piracy which stated: "The principal responsibility for addressing the piracy and armed robbery problem lies with the state in whose territory such criminals operate and are based... a range of responses is required including inter-governmental arrangements to combat international crime and piracy on the high seas and a co-ordinated approach by UK Government." The same can be said to apply to the Somali problem and so our dialogue with both the military and FCO in the last 12 months has increasingly focused on possible shore-based initiatives and capacity-building measures in Somalia.

17.  The industry has been approached several times with a suggestion that a financial contribution be made to Somali trust funds. The Chamber participates in a dialogue on capacity-building but views this as being principally an issue for governments.


18.  The outbreak of criminality and maritime lawlessness that have developed off Somalia since 2008 and proven a challenge to the EU military operation Operation Atalanta and we have to acknowledge that despite a major military operation the piracy threat has not been reduced or contained. The current threat has been dispersed to areas where the weather conditions have permitted pirate attacks to be launched from small skiffs, firstly to the north and east of the north Indian Ocean, and south into the Mozambique Channel. In recent weeks and with the return of the SW monsoon the threat has now reverted to the more sheltered waters of the Gulf of Aden, including the Bab al Mandeb straits.

19.  The timescale of returning this vitally important but immense sea area to normality is stretching into the distance and it is increasingly difficult to see what single military solution can now be applied. The Chamber is convinced of the need for the shipping industry to persevere and continue to improve:

—  Vessel self-protection measures by implementation of industry-agreed Best Management Practices (BMPs) Version 3 and subsequent versions which have repeatedly proven to be the first and best form of defence.

—  Both quantitative and qualitative aspects of civil/military operational links, to deliver faster information flow including, threat, positional and incident reporting processes.

—  Measures to address the concerns and confidence of seafarers and the risks to which they are exposed, including the aftercare of those involved in hijack situations.

—  Industry liaison by the provision of Merchant Navy Liaison Officers (MNLOs) to assist their military colleagues.

20.  Governmental action is required to:

—  Improve Rules of Engagement and take action against mother ships.

—  Resource the supply of Vessel Protection Detachments (VPDs) of military personnel to vulnerable UK interest ships.

—  Resource UK command of, and units to, Operation Atalanta and to other coalition force initiatives.

—  Support jurisdictional efforts and encourage UK prosecutions of incidents involving UK interest.

—  Adjust UK legislation to allow private maritime security companies to provide Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP) to UK ships and companies when required by owners of the most vulnerable ships. And to provide a robust national accreditation structure to ensure all such companies and personnel act at all times in accordance with the law.

—  Support international, regional and national capacity-building.

20 June 2011

1   The Chamber of Shipping is the trade association for the UK shipping industry with 137 members; it represents 917 ships of 27 million gross tonnes. Back

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Prepared 5 January 2012