Blog Analysismaritime piracy

The House of Commons rebukes its government on piracy

(credit: Royal Navy)

(BRUSSELS2) In political terms, the British House of Commons has just issued a severe admonition to its government in the report on maritime piracy that it has just published. A timely report since it comes as the Foreign Office plans to host a major conference on maritime piracy in February 2012.

A gap between rhetoric and action

« For too long there has been a noticeable gap between government rhetoric and action », is it written. " Piracy is not a priority task for the Royal Navy. » “It is difficult to see how the UK can continue to play a leading role in the international response without having a visible commitment from at least one ship all the time,” explain the MEPs who are concerned about the consequences of the Strategic Defense Review on the available forces.

Whether the UK allowed armed private guards on board British merchant ships, “the guidelines published by the government offer practical advice but do not provide a clear and comprehensive line on the legal use of force”. « There is no legal reason to prevent the UK from asserting jurisdiction over suspected pirates if no other state is willing to do so. ". As for the tracing and the fight against laundering of ransom money – around $135 million collected in 4 years – the report admits its surprise at the “ poor information available on pirate financing and profits”. Even on aid to families taken hostage, the House of Commons is critical, considering that “ The Foreign Office should review its communications and other procedures to provide support to family members of British hostages”. A remark made after hearing Paul and Rachel Chandler, captured in 2009-2010… It’s mind-blowing!

Not content with making this volley of observations, the deputies also make a series of recommendations. Among them, we can highlight:

VPD teams. The government should examine with industry how it could finance the presence of on-board protection detachments (VPD/EPE) or military personnel on board merchant ships. A question often overlooked, but part of the British maritime industry would prefer to have military personnel on board, and would be ready to pay for this – the Ministry of Defense responds by the weakness of the available resources;

Private guards. The parliamentarians underline how the existing system still remains too vague. The government must clarify the use of force by private companies, specifying (as for the military) when they can use force, including lethal means, as well as examples of graduated responses. It must consider the risk that the guards or the captain of the ship may face in another State following an incident involving the use of weapons.

naval forces. Failing to have a unified command, which would be ideal, the government must be " rigorous by eliminating any duplication between the different operations ". Rules of engagement should be reviewed regularly to ensure they can respond flexibly to hacker tactics. And the government must promise to maintain a commitment of at least one ship. (NB: we note that in the table published by the report, the British have never made more than one ship available to the various forces of the coalition - NATO mainly -, which is not at the level of the effort made by several European countries such as Germany, France and Spain).

Satellite means. Similar to what was done in Afghanistan, the report advocates for the use of new methods of detecting skiffs, using micro-satellite surveillance.

Lawsuit. This is one of the strengths of the report – and one of the weaknesses of the British response. If the MPs support their government for having refused the establishment of an extra-territorial court (as proposed in Jack Lang's report to the UN), they believe that they should study the more recent proposals for specialized courts established in the countries of the region and operating under ordinary law. The training of Somali judges will indeed take time (of the 120 judges in Somaliland and the 76 judges in Puntland, only 5% are trained in law according to the report by J. Lang, and the UN which has started the training of around twenty judges estimate that it will take 3 years before there are trials in Somalia that meet international standards). The report therefore underlines that more efforts – and pressure – must be made on countries in the region so that they accept suspects and prosecute them in their courts (Kenya in particular). It is in fact this local avenue of prosecution which is the “preference” of the House of Commons.

But MPs also say the government must ensure that all aspects of international piracy are covered by British law and should clarify what obstacles stand in the way of prosecuting the Chandlers' captors. It is clear from this report, in fact, that British law is not entirely up to date: it has not yet really integrated the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea into its national law. NB: Surprisingly, there is little mention in this report that the United Kingdom is one of the only European states to have never pursued, or even attempted to pursue, a pirate arrested by its forces or concerning one of its nationals!

Report to download within B2 Docs

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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