The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released its report on Somali piracy on 5 January 2012.* I acted as a specialist advisor to the committee, so I will not offer a full analysis but simply highlight some points of interest:
- the report is critical of the failure to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean; however, it acknowledges that absent further naval resources the only effective way to protect vessels is to allow them to protect themselves – it thus supports the use of armed guards in some cases;
- indeed, the committee notes that UK government policy on armed guards appeared to shift during its inquiry, with the release last December of a Department of Transport policy allowing the use of armed security on UK flag vessels for the first time;
- the committee calls on the government to issue clear guidance on when armed guards may use potentially lethal force, noting that Crown Prosecution Service guidance on self-defence was not drafted with armed security guards in mind (paras 35-37);
- the report includes as appendices transcripts of evidence; of particular interest is the evidence of Major General Buster Howes (head of the EU NAVFOR counter-piracy mission), Sally Healey (Somalia expert) and Paul and Rachel Chandler (piracy hostages – though some of their evidence will remain redacted until such time as no British hostages are being held);
- the committee rejects calls for an international piracy tribunal or an extra-territorial Somali court sitting in Arusha and supports “recent proposals for specialised anti-piracy courts established within regional states under ordinary national law” as the most efficient and practical option (para 92);
- the explanation of how decisions to prosecute and transfers for prosecution operate in practice is enlightening (see paras 102-3 in particular);
- the report urges the government to consider prosecuting those piracy suspects intercepted by the Royal Navy in the UK where no other State will accept the case (para 107) but notes UK law may need clarification/updating (para 84 and n. 162);
- also worth attention are the sections on “solutions on land” (noting that present “[i]nternational capacity to rebuild a Somali state is extremely limited” but supporting “community engagement” as the way forward) and on the UK government response to the Chandler case (recommending a review of procedures and lessons learned); and
- finally, there are a series of interesting tables and graphs in the report, including those at pages 30 (total attacks against shipping compared to successful hijackings), 39 (numbers of ships and hostages held by pirates over time), 53 (pirate prosecutions internationally), 56 (total ransoms paid).
One statistic evident in, but not highlighted by, the report is the success rate of pirate attacks which halved from 2010 to 2011 (see page 30). This piece of good news is probably due to a mix of factors including naval patrolling, improvements in the passive security measures taken by vessels following Best Management Practices and increasing use of armed security. None of these measures, of course, should be seen as a panacea.
*I note the House of Lords also inquired into Somali piracy, reporting on 14 April 2010.