Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta - European Union Committee Contents

Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta


1.  During 2008, the EU and the UN Security Council became increasingly concerned about piracy off the east coast of Africa and in the Gulf of Aden. A large part of the world's maritime traffic passes through this trade route and piracy was posing an increasing threat. In particular, the World Food Programme (WFP) suffered several attacks on its ships taking vital humanitarian aid to Somalia, and it called upon the international community to provide protection. Shipping companies were also concerned about the protection and safety of their vessels, cargo and crew. Concurrently the humanitarian situation in Somalia worsened considerably. UN Security Council resolution 1838 noted reports that as many as 3.5 million Somalis would be in need of food aid by the end of 2008.

2.  In a series of Security Council Resolutions, the UN called on the international community to act (see Box 2) and in December 2008 the EU established Operation Atalanta (see Box 1), its first-ever naval Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) operation. This was also the first military CSDP operation in which the UK had taken a leading role.

3.  This report examines the mandate and effectiveness of EU Operation Atalanta as well as the key challenges facing it and how to address them.

4.  This report was prepared by Sub-Committee C (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development) whose members are listed in Appendix 1. Those from whom we took evidence are listed in Appendix 2. We are grateful to them all.

5.  We make this report to the House for debate.


EU Operation Atalanta

The EU agreed to set up an Operation to combat piracy at the 10 November 2008 Council[1]. This Operation, named EUNAVFOR Somalia—Operation Atalanta, has been in operation since December 2008. It was originally set up for one year and the common costs were specified as 8.3 million euros for the initial year. On 8 December 2009, the Council of the EU decided to extend its mandate for another year (until 12 December 2010).

The EU's Council conclusions of 26 May 2008 had earlier expressed the Council's concern at the upsurge of pirate attacks off the Somali coast, which affected humanitarian efforts and international maritime traffic in the region and contributed to continued violations of the UN arms embargo.

Operation Atalanta operates in a zone comprising the south of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali basin and part of the Indian Ocean, including the Seychelles. This is a vast area, comparable to that of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Political and Security Committee (PSC) exercises political control and strategic direction of the EU military operation, under the responsibility of the Council of the European Union. The EU Military Committee (EUMC) monitors the correct execution of the operation. The Operation Commander, Rear Admiral Peter Hudson RN (UK), currently commands the operation from the Operational Headquarters (OHQ) at Northwood, United Kingdom.

More than twenty vessels and aircraft take part in Atalanta. On 7 April 2010[2], the following EU Member States were making a permanent operational contribution to the operation: the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg and Portugal. A number of other EU military personnel supplement the team at the Northwood Operational Headquarters. Non-EU Member States Norway, Croatia, Montenegro and Ukraine also participate in the Operation.


The UN Framework

Operation Atalanta was launched in support of a series of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) on Somalia:
  • Resolution 1814 (2008) called on the international community to take action to protect shipping involved in the transport and delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia.
  • In resolution 1816 (2008), the Security Council expressed its concern at the threat that acts of piracy and armed robbery against vessels posed to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia, the safety of commercial maritime routes and international navigation. The Security Council authorised the states cooperating with the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to enter the territorial waters of Somalia and to use, in a manner consistent with relevant international law, all necessary means to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.
  • Resolution 1838 (2008), commended the ongoing planning process towards a possible EU naval operation.
  • Resolution 1897 (2009) renewed the Security Council's call upon states and regional organisations to take part in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, in particular by "deploying naval vessels, arms and military aircraft and through seizures and disposition of boats, vessels, arms and other related equipment ..."

The mandate and effectiveness of Operation Atalanta

6.  EU Operation Commander Rear Admiral Peter Hudson RN told us that one of the strengths of Operation Atalanta was the clarity of its mandate:

  • to support the World Food Programme (WFP) in its efforts to transport humanitarian aid into Somalia—a top priority;
  • to support the African Union (AU) mission, AMISOM[3], by protecting its ships supplying the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia in Mogadishu;
  • to protect vulnerable shipping and work with industry groups on how they should go through the high risk areas;
  • to deter, disrupt and break up pirate groups (Q 94).

Recently the mandate has been extended to include the monitoring of fishing activities.

7.  We heard universal praise for the way in which Operation Atalanta was run. Dr Lee Willett (Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies—RUSI) noted that the Operation had been launched in the space of only 10 weeks, which for "something of this size and significance is quite an achievement". The UK had been welcomed as the framework nation for the Operation due to the experience and credibility of the Royal Navy. Siting the headquarters at Northwood made sense; it already housed Navy and NATO operations, as well as being close to London, home of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and a hub for the global shipping community (Q 164) (see also Kopernicki QQ 214, 216, Simmonds Q 216).

8.  Witnesses expressed concern about the dangers of the possible spread of piracy, with copy-cat operations, if nothing was done. Jan Kopernicki (Shell Shipping and Oil Companies International Forum) said this had already happened on the West African coast (Q 217).

9.  Our witnesses agreed that Operation Atalanta had been effective in the two main aspects of its mandate: protecting WFP and AU ships and deterring and disrupting piracy. Rear Admiral Hudson said that the EU Operation had a 100% successful record in protecting WFP vessels. In 2009 Atalanta had escorted 49 WFP ships carrying over 300,000 tonnes of food, as well as 14 African Union ships with supplies for AMISOM troops in Mogadishu. According to EU figures, the number of successful pirate attacks on larger merchant vessels had remained steady, with 46 in 2008 and 43 in 2009. He stressed that it was "quite a challenge" to identify reports of genuine but unsuccessful pirate assaults: a ship's master might see a fishing vessel or an illegal activity, such as human smuggling, and report it as an attack (QQ 95, 101-4).

10.  Jason Alderwick (International Institute for Strategic Studies—IISS) said that much progress had been made in international efforts to combat piracy in the region, which had previously been unchecked. Although the number of ships taken by pirates was broadly the same over the previous 12 months, the number of attempted attacks that had been thwarted had increased by at least 70%. This was a result both of the presence of military forces in the region and of ship owners, operators and other commercial parties taking the issue seriously. Dr Willett agreed that Atalanta was addressing the piracy problem, as well as providing a presence in the region and giving greater confidence to the shipping industry (QQ 160-1, 171).

11.  Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean is a serious and continuing threat to UK and EU interests. The EU acted rapidly and decisively in response to this threat by launching Operation Atalanta. This is a good example of the EU successfully conducting foreign and security policy. We welcome the lead role which the UK is playing in the Operation.

12.  Operation Atalanta has proved itself a credible force in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It has been highly effective in protecting World Food Programme and AMISOM logistics vessels, none of which has so far been taken by pirates. It has also successfully deterred and disrupted pirate threats to commercial shipping.

13.  Piracy is deeply rooted in Somalia and could spread to other countries in the region unless determined steps are taken to address the problem of fragile states. There is piracy elsewhere in the world and it could spread further if the EU and its international partners do not show a determination to eliminate it.

14.  We believe that Atalanta's mandate should be renewed in December 2010 and that the Government should continue to make the Operational Headquarters in Northwood available for this mission.

A complex environment

15.  Mr Alderwick commented that Atalanta was operating in a "very complex environment". It was the second or third busiest channel for maritime transport in the world, in addition to the "myriad" local fishing boats in the Gulf of Aden (Q 162).

16.  Rear Admiral Hudson told us that about 25,000 ships transited the area every year, principally through the Gulf of Aden, representing around 25 per cent of global trade. It was a "vital strategic artery". An important energy supply route led from the Gulf of Aden into Europe and across to America. Container ships bound for the far east also regularly used that route. On average between 75 and 100 ships transited every day, depending on the season and economic cycles. In the Somali Basin, the southern part of the area of operations, the traffic density was much lower, around 600 to 1,000 ships annually (Q 96).

Pirate organisation and tactics

17.  Pirates identify vulnerable ships which can more easily be attacked. Rear Admiral Hudson told us that a set of criteria had been established which were used to identify what constituted a vulnerable ship: its speed, manoeuvrability, freeboard[4] and cargo and the number of people on board. The maritime security centre then calculated whether the ship was high, medium or low risk (Q 94).

18.  Rear Admiral Hudson commented that the pirates ran "adaptive organisations. They look at the conditions, they look at where the military forces are and that is how they are able to exploit the weaknesses in our armour". Following the success of the international forces and those of Puntland[5] authorities in the Gulf of Aden, the pirates had sought alternative criminal activity, including human smuggling. They were also moving out into the Somali Basin using long-range skiffs or "mother ships" towing attack skiffs behind them (Q 107) (see Appendix 4). Mr Alderwick said that while the pirate organisations were sophisticated, the conduct of pirate attacks was basic and the state of the pirates' weaponry was poor. However, they were becoming better at operating offshore, in particular by equipping their boats with additional or more powerful engines (Q 172). Atalanta sought to identify pirates based on the equipment they carried: in particular the quantity of fuel and presence of more powerful engines than were needed for fishing. Pirate equipment, including ladders and weaponry, was easy to detect (Rear Admiral Jones Q 8).

19.  Mr Alderwick thought that one indication of the success of the operation had been the displacement "arguably" of activity by the pirates. Once the maritime forces in the Gulf of Aden "were galvanised", activity was displaced further into the Somali Basin, causing a separate tactical and operational issue (Q 160).

20.  The pirates were largely based around three clans, which tended to have their own "pirate companies". They left from numerous pirate ports, including coves and harbours along the 3,000 km-long coast. They brought seized ships back to a central location, where they maintained the security of the ships and conducted ransom negotiations (Hudson Q 111). Some pirates were subject to the influence of Islamic tribes, including Al-Shabab and Al-Islamiya (Jones Q 10).

21.  A significant number of Somali pirates are organised in clan-based sophisticated criminal networks. However the method of attack has remained basic. Ironically, it is a measure of the success of Atalanta and other international forces in the Gulf of Aden that pirates have been forced to operate further offshore in the Indian Ocean. This increases the risk-to-reward ratio for the pirates as they have to use mother ships which are more easily identified by surveillance. The EU's efforts to combat piracy must continue to be robust so as to increase this risk-to-reward ratio. Given the displacement of piracy further into the Indian Ocean, it is all the more important that Atalanta has the right capabilities, especially airborne surveillance.

Capability shortfalls

22.  Despite praise for the Operation, our witnesses identified a number of specific shortfalls—in maritime surveillance, tankers and medical support. Rear Admiral Philip Jones, EU Operation Commander from December 2008 to June 2009, distinguished between strategic intelligence, to which Atalanta had sufficient access, and tactical "day-to-day" intelligence, which was "a constant challenge". Identifying a pirate boat presented difficulties from a legal point of view. "A pirate is only a pirate when he is committing an act of piracy ... he may be a people smuggler overnight taking [Somalis] to Yemen, ... a fisherman the next morning and then, in the afternoon, go out to do some piracy, and it is only when he commits the act of piracy that he becomes liable to arrest and prosecution by the maritime forces" (QQ 7-10).

23.  Given the difficulty of identifying pirate skiffs, Rear Admiral Jones stressed the importance of airborne surveillance platforms, including maritime patrol aircraft. These aircraft were "absolutely pivotal" because they could detect the movement of pirate vessels at greater range and more effectively than was possible using surface-borne radar and visual imagery. Ship-based helicopters were also able to cover a wide area and use a range of sensors to detect the movement of pirate vessels. However, there was a gap in the Operation's knowledge of pirate activity on land in Somalia (QQ 7-10). Rear Admiral Hudson observed that maritime patrol aircraft were the asset that Atalanta, NATO and the coalition forces needed most. Those running Operation Atalanta had set a minimum threshold of three maritime patrol aircraft to enable a full daily sortie in the Gulf of Aden, but this requirement had not been met. Tankers—to allow mid-ocean refuelling—and role two[6] medical facilities were also in short supply (QQ 135-136).

24.  Mr Alderwick agreed that aviation assets were a "great force multiplier", but that some states contributing to the EU Operation had at times been unable to supply a helicopter, although not in the UK's case (Q 164). Dr Willett pointed out that capability shortfalls were best addressed on an international basis. The UK had limited military assets, and other nations should be encouraged to contribute. Luxembourg had offered a maritime patrol aircraft, which was operating in the Seychelles area. Saudi Arabia and Japan had each provided a tanker to support international naval operations in the region (Q 193).

25.  Mr Kopernicki (Shell Shipping and Oil Companies International Forum) suggested that commercial tankers could be chartered for refuelling purposes. Many tankers were already fitted out with NATO-compatible connections. These tankers could augment the international naval forces' fleet (Q 218). However, FCO Minister Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead stated that the use of commercial tankers was not currently assessed to be the best means of meeting requirements "either operationally or in particular most cost-effectively". Charter costs for a medium ocean tanker were in the region of £11,000 per day and the tanker could itself become a potential target for pirates (p 83).

26.  Admiral Hudson commented that the EU mission had no unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the type deployed in Afghanistan, but the US operated them from the Seychelles. Asked whether Atalanta should have UAVs, he commented that they were in scarce supply and other operational theatres had a higher demand for them (QQ 137-140). Atalanta had a good relationship with the EU Satellite Centre and used "a variety of sources to keep an eye on activity" (Q 116).

27.  We are concerned that Atalanta's capability shortfalls are preventing it from being even more effective in tackling piracy. Airborne surveillance capabilities—including maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters—are crucial force multipliers for Operation Atalanta, as they facilitate the identification of suspected pirates. We welcome the support currently provided by Luxembourg operating out of the Seychelles, but regret that Atalanta still does not have access to sufficient surveillance assets. Unmanned aerial vehicles directly serving Atalanta would, in particular, be useful, but we recognise that they are needed as a higher priority in combat zones.

28.  Tanker support is needed to enable ships participating in Atalanta and the NATO and coalition forces to refuel in mid-ocean in order to maximise the time they spend at sea combating piracy, rather than refuelling in port. Cover is currently insufficient. The Government and the EU should continue actively to encourage international partners to provide tankers so that continuous cover can be provided.

29.  The EU should also explore with Member States how to increase access to medical facilities for surgical and non-surgical interventions where there is also a shortage.

The World Food Programme

30.  Mr Kopernicki told us that the WFP chartered small, old, very slow ships, requiring Atalanta to deploy large numbers of personnel and ships for long periods to steward them. If the WFP could be persuaded or financially assisted to use larger, more modern and faster ships, they would require far fewer troops and ships to patrol, releasing resources to carry out anti-piracy activity (Q 217). Chris Holtby (Deputy Head of Security Policy, FCO) told us that, where possible, armed vessel protection detachments (VPDs) were placed on WFP and other ships[7]. However, some flag states had not agreed to this, increasing their vulnerability to attack. Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead said that discussions were taking place between the WFP and the military on ways to improve the situation and the Government had raised the problem with the shipping industry (QQ 330-4).

31.  Protecting World Food Programme vessels delivering vital supplies to Somalia is an essential part of Atalanta's mandate, which we fully support. However, the WFP's use of small, slow ships requires greater military protection resources. The Government and the EU should strongly encourage the WFP to charter faster, larger and more modern vessels.

32.  In addition shipping companies have a vested interest in such measures as they would free up Atalanta's ships to protect their vessels transiting the area. The Government should consider establishing a partnership in which interested companies would make a voluntary financial or in-kind contribution to the WFP for chartering or purchasing satisfactory vessels. A "friend of the WFP label" could be established under the auspices of the EU or the IMO to recognise the contribution of shipping companies. This would serve as an indication of their commitment to corporate citizenship.

33.  The WFP should also make it a condition of tender that, when requested, the flag state allow military personnel on board all WFP vessels used to supply Somalia. The Government should pursue this objective with the WFP and other donors, including the US as the primary donor.

Rules of engagement: detention and prosecution of suspected pirates

34.  Atalanta military personnel can arrest, detain and transfer persons who are suspected of having committed or who have committed acts of piracy or armed robbery in the areas where they are present. They can seize the vessels of the pirates or vessels captured following an act of piracy or an armed robbery and which are in the hands of the pirates, as well as the goods on board. The suspects can be prosecuted by an EU Member State or by Kenya under an agreement signed with the EU on 6 March 2009 giving the Kenyan authorities the right to prosecute. An exchange of letters concluded on 30 October 2009 between the EU and the Republic of Seychelles allows the transfer of suspected pirates and armed robbers apprehended by Atalanta in the operation area. This arrangement constitutes an important new contribution to the counter-piracy efforts[8]. On 22 March 2010 the Council of the EU authorised High Representative Baroness Ashton of Upholland to open negotiations with Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda with a view to concluding further transfer agreements[9].

35.  Commander Clive Dow RN told us that Atalanta was a law enforcement operation rather than a war against pirates or an armed conflict. It abided by the law of the sea, under customary international law, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Convention. The principle of "reasonable force" applied[10]. Lethal force could only be employed where there was a threat to life (QQ 112-3). On the rules of engagement, Rear Admiral Hudson assured us that Atalanta had the necessary flexibility to disrupt, deter and arrest pirates (Q 112).

36.  Commander Dow said that Atalanta restricted its prosecutions of suspects to pirates who were caught in the act rather than those who looked suspicious on the basis of their equipment. This was due to the arrangements for prosecution, generally in Kenya and the Seychelles. Cases were selected to maximise the chances of conviction, based on witness evidence of an act of piracy. There was a comprehensive approach when it came to prosecutions across the military operations as well as in the political arena. The EU mission worked closely with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which was charged with assisting capacity building, not only in Kenya and the Seychelles, but in any other regional area where prosecutions might take place. However it focused its efforts on building capacity in Somalia, Somaliland[11] and Puntland. This ensured that prosecutions were efficiently managed and that human rights standards were met. However, this could not be done "in isolation" for pirates. Capacity building in regional jurisdictions had to apply to the whole system (QQ 113, 148).

37.  We asked our witnesses whether human rights standards were being met for the transfer, prosecution and detention of suspected and convicted pirates. Lord Malloch-Brown (then FCO Minister) assured us that Government policy was not to allow transfer to third states of suspected pirates for prosecution unless the Government were satisfied that they would not be subject to cruel treatment, the death penalty or face a trial which was grossly unfair. The UK had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kenya in December 2008, and the Government's legal advisers were completely satisfied that suitable guarantees were in place on the sentencing of pirates and their conditions of detention. The EU had since then agreed a similar MoU with Kenya as well as an exchange of letters with the Seychelles authorities for the transfer of suspected pirates (Q 62, p87).

38.  Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead said that there were 117 pirates in Kenyan prisons, 75 of whom were transferred by Atalanta for prosecution. A further 11 pirate suspects would be transferred to the Seychelles by Atalanta for prosecution (Q 283; p 83).

39.  Speaking of the different organisations operating to counter piracy in the area, Mr Alderwick said that the advantage of the EU was that it had a variety of political instruments; it could enter into political agreements with states in the region, both as a collective entity and through its Member States. By contrast, NATO was seen as a military organisation. The EU has put in place status of forces agreements with states in the region. These acted as a "force multiplier", as Atalanta could operate out of Djibouti and Oman. The EU had also negotiated legal frameworks for the prosecution of pirates, such as that with Kenya. Atalanta had adopted a comprehensive and inter-agency approach, by engaging ship-owners, operators, the British Chamber of Shipping and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). This approach was key to addressing the piracy issue (QQ 160-1).

40.  We welcome the fact that the rules of engagement of Operation Atalanta are sufficiently robust to allow it to carry out its mandate.

41.  We welcome the agreements that the EU has signed with Kenya and the Seychelles for the transfer and prosecution of suspected pirates, and the Government's assurance that these agreements safeguard the human rights of those detained. We commend Kenya and the Seychelles for showing leadership in addressing a regional problem, although we are concerned by recent reports that Kenya is considering no longer accepting suspected pirates from international naval forces. The Government and the EU should continue to assist both states in building the capacity of their judicial and penal systems to cope with the increased demand.

42.  We also welcome the Council of the EU's agreement to open negotiations on similar arrangements with other countries in the region.

Coordination with NATO and other maritime forces

43.  The EU Operation is part of a wider international effort to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. Two multinational forces operate in this zone in close coordination with the EU: US-led coalition CTF-151 and NATO. Russian, Indian, Japanese, Malaysian, South Korean and Chinese vessels are also present in varying degrees. Atalanta is in permanent liaison with all these forces. Mr Alderwick pointed out that the effectiveness of international cooperation had to be assessed bearing in mind that it had only been active for just over a year (Q 160).

44.  Rear Admiral Hudson said that coordination in the region between the EU, NATO and coalition forces was working well (Q 127). Jan Kopernicki agreed that cooperation with other nations worked well, reflecting the broader engagement of Atalanta with the US Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain (where the combined task forces are based) and NATO deployments (Q 216).

45.  The EU's in-theatre coordination with NATO, the US-led coalition and other navies is working well. We welcome the important role that other countries are playing in combating piracy. Coordination with the Chinese navy in particular is encouraging.

The shipping industry

46.  Dr Willett emphasised the role that navies played in advising the shipping industry on best practice prior to and during transit in the region in order to mitigate the risk of pirate attacks. Mr Kopernicki told us that best practice guidance had been produced by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF)[12]. It includes guidance on how the ship is sailed and manoeuvred, including its speed, the use of defensive measures such as water hoses and razor wire and means of preventing grappling hooks gripping the vessel, and the use of low radars to detect the approach of small boats. Dr Willett emphasised how well the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) through the Gulf of Aden is considered to be operating, with only two ships attacked since it was established. He highlighted that the owners of 25 per cent of ships still chose not to use the IRTC and that these ships included a high proportion of the vessels which were ultimately attacked (QQ 174-7, 226). Mr Kopernicki added that the owners of this substantial minority of ships tended to be small independent, often family-owned firms with one or two ships who decided not to use the IRTC but to take a chance (Q 228).

47.  We welcome the best practice guidance which has been produced and circulated by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum and other organisations. We believe that the benefits of adopting recommended best practice in mitigating the risk of piracy attacks need to be more actively promoted among the shipping industry. The Government, the EU and the shipping industry should work on this collaboratively.

Armed guards on commercial shipping

48.  Some ships carry personnel from private security companies. Our witnesses agreed that these individuals should not be armed, in line with industry best practice, as this would increase the risks to which individuals and ships would be subjected (Q 60). In contrast to their position regarding the use of VPDs on WFP chartered ships (see paragraph 30 above), Mr Holtby stated that the Government's clear position regarding the other ships transiting the region was that private guards should not take arms on board vessels. He considered that vulnerable ships could be supported by other means such as through military co-operation (Q 299).

49.  Mr Alderwick said that Atalanta had adopted a comprehensive and inter-agency approach, by engaging ship owners, operators, Chambers of Shipping and the IMO, unlike other international forces in the region. This approach was key to addressing the piracy issue (see paragraph 39 above) (QQ 160-1). Mr Kopernicki thought that military-civilian cooperation had been significant as the problem went beyond normal military boundaries (Q 216).

50.  We endorse the view of the shipping industry, the IMO and the Government that private security guards should not be placed on commercial shipping as this would increase the risks to which the ships and crew were subject. However, military personnel from national armed forces are occasionally placed on commercial shipping on a case-by-case basis, and we believe this should continue. The Government and the EU should ensure that any such personnel receive prior specialised training to a high standard for this role.

The insurance industry

51.  Rear Admiral Hudson expressed regret that little progress had been made in persuading insurance companies to offer a discount in respect of ships that adhered to best practice and self-protective measures (Q 105). Mr Alderwick suggested that, in order to encourage the shipping industry to conform to best practice, compliance with International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) guidelines, IMO Best Management Practices or IRTC recommendations should be made a condition of being underwritten by the insurance industry (Q 202). David Croom-Johnson (Aegis Managing Agency) and Andrew Voke (LMA Marine Committee and Chaucer Underwriting) made clear their support for the promotion of best practice among the shipping industry in order to reduce risk but stated that the insurance industry was reluctant to mandate such an approach, and instead could only give advice, due to their obligations under competition law (QQ 258-261, 268). Mr Kopernicki agreed that the insurance industry would face difficulties in adopting such an approach but also suggested that the Protection and Indemnity (P&I) arm of the insurance industry could potentially be more amenable in this respect[13] (QQ 233-234).

52.  The insurance industry must accept a greater degree of responsibility for promoting adherence to best practice on deterring piracy by shipping companies. We strongly urge that the terms and conditions of insurance effectively reflect the need to discourage shipping companies from failing to follow recognised best practice.

Hostage taking and ransoms

53.  Rear Admiral Hudson said that the piracy of ships for ransom had generated around $80 million in 2009. Generally, hostages had been well treated notwithstanding the psychological impact. Tracing where the money went was a key part of the overall assault on piracy but he did not believe there were any direct links between terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and piracy (Q 108). We understand that it is very difficult to ascertain the ultimate destination of proceeds of piracy. Although the Government have so far found no evidence of any operational or organisational link between piracy and terrorism,[14] there must be a danger of such links.

54.  Lord Malloch-Brown (then FCO Minister) acknowledged the reality that ransom payments were made by ship owners to save the life of their crews, and confirmed that such payments were not illegal under international law. However, the Government would not endorse, condone or participate in such a transaction, in line with the common EU position (QQ 79-80).

55.  Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead confirmed that the payment of ransoms was not a criminal offence under UK law; the Government's position was that such payments should be discouraged as they would only exacerbate the piracy problem[15]. Mr Holtby stated that once a ransom was received by pirates it became criminal proceeds which could then technically be recovered (Q 340).

56.  The insurance industry confirmed that the payment of a ransom was insurable and it was not illegal to insure such a payment[16] (Croom-Johnson Q 278). The FCO told us that the US had recently suggested that pirate individuals should be designated under the UN anti-terror sanctions regime, which could require States to freeze funds and financial assets associated with an individual. They noted the reported concerns of the shipping industry that such a move might render the payment of ransoms more complicated and thus potentially endanger the lives of crews (Q 340).

57.  We support the status quo whereby the payment of ransom to pirates is not a criminal offence under United Kingdom law. We recommend that the Government continue to monitor the potential risks of monies reaching terrorists.

58.  We understand that skilled ransom negotiators can help to keep risk to life and vessels, as well as ransom payments, to a minimum. Where ship owners intend to pay a ransom to recover their vessel and crew, we recommend that they use experienced and effective ransom negotiators. Where insurance policies do not already insist on experienced negotiators, they should do so.

Addressing the root causes: the EU's comprehensive approach

59.  Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead confirmed that the EU was pursuing a "very comprehensive strategy" to tackle Somali piracy and its root causes, which were instability and lack of rule of law. The EU, the UK and other international partners were members of the Contact Group on Somalia which supported the efforts of the fledgling Transitional Federal Government, the UN Political Office on Somalia and the African Union military mission, AMISOM, towards the establishment of a peaceful environment. The EU was considering how it could increase its commitment to Somalia, including support for a general reinforcement of Somali capacity to meet security challenges. In the north of Somalia, in Somaliland and in Puntland, the UK, EU and UN were supporting programmes to deliver rule of law projects, and DfID was providing funding for alternative livelihoods. The EU had proposed a military training mission that would contribute to strengthening the Somali security forces (Q 295). The EU Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels adopted a Council Decision on 25 January 2010 to launch this mission. We were also told that the European Commission was funding the salaries of a 5,000-strong police service in Mogadishu (p 83).

60.  Rear Admiral Hudson said that capacity building was a "big issue" in the Horn of Africa. Somali institutions and regional coastguard capabilities needed improvement. Initiatives included the IMO's Djibouti Code of Conduct, information sharing centres, and a coastguard training centre in Djibouti. The EU's major initiative was to build security assurance in Somalia and help the TFG in the transition to a proper federal government in Somalia. In the 2009 revision to the EU mandate Atalanta had taken on some modest capacity building in Kenya and Djibouti. It was working with the Yemeni coastguard to build the capacity of coastguards in Puntland and Somaliland, without detriment to Atalanta's main operations (Q 106)[17].

61.  It is clear that without addressing the root causes of the conflict in Somalia, piracy will continue to flourish. The EU is rightly taking a comprehensive approach, seeking to address political, economic and security aspects of the crisis in a holistic way. However, the causes of fighting and insecurity in Somalia are deep-rooted and complex. Progress on peace and security will largely depend on the Somalis themselves, including the actions of the fledgling Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

62.  We fully support the EU's efforts to build up the security sector in Somalia, in particular the training of Somali police, in line with democratic norms, while providing funding for vital humanitarian assistance. The EU's actions are part of a joint effort by the UN and international partners. It will be important that the international community makes a long-term commitment to stabilising the country.

63.  The UK and EU should also work with the autonomous authorities in Somaliland and Puntland to build up their coastguards and provide sources of legitimate employment for their people.

1   Council Joint Action 2008/851/CFSP. Back

2   Information from the EU Council website, Back

3   AMISOM is the African Union's Mission in Somalia, created in 2007 to implement a national security plan for Somalia, train Somali forces and assist in creating a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Back

4   The distance from the waterline to the deck of a fully loaded ship. Back

5   Puntland is a semi-autonomous region in the north east of Somalia. Back

6   Role two medical facilities offer a range of clinical capabilities. For most NATO nations, surgical capability is their defining feature, whereas for the UK (and the US), their defining feature is "consultant-led resuscitation", both surgical and non-surgical (MOD information). Back

7   The Ukraine has recently offered special forces units to be deployed on WFP ships. The EU has warmly welcomed this offer and is urgently considering ways of responding positively. Back

8   EU Factsheet on Operation Atalanta, February 2010. Available at: Back

9   Foreign Affairs Council conclusions 22 March 2010 Back

10   The minimum force necessary to impose one's rights under the relevant provisions: whether to board, search, seize, arrest, or detain (Commander Dow Q 113). Back

11   Somaliland is an autonomous region in the north of Somalia. Back

12   Piracy-The East Africa/Somalia Situation: Practical Measures to Avoid, Deter or Delay Piracy Attacks (OCIMF, 2009); see also Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Coast of Somalia (Version 2-August 2009) produced by a number of organisations. Back

13   Protection and indemnity insurance (P&I) is a form of marine insurance against third party liabilities and expenses arising from owning ships or operating ships as principals. It is distinct from other forms of marine insurance such as hull and war risk insurance. Cover is provided by an insurance mutual, called a P&I Club, which is owned by its members who are the insured ship-owners. Back

14   House of Lords Hansard 12 December 2009 cols 977-978 Back

15   See also: Money laundering and the financing of terrorism (19th Report of Session 2008-09, HL Paper 132), paragraph 170. Back

16   Masefield AG v Amlin Corporate Member Ltd [2010] EWHC 280 (Comm), 18 February 2010. Back

17   The FCO has recently allocated £400,000 to improve the Somaliland Coast Guard's ability to provide for the safety of the coastal population of Somaliland. Information provided by the FCO. Back

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