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The House of Lords EU Committee for External Affairs has in an August report praised the European Union’s Operation Atalanta in curbing piracy off the Somali coast. However, they say that the operation must be extended beyond its current end date of December 2014 if it is to make a lasting difference. The report says: “This would send a clear signal to those organisations and individuals that organise piracy that the EU will not walk away from confronting piracy in the Indian Ocean.” The report warns that problems remain about the Operation’s ability to conduct surveillance over such a vast area, given that the piracy has spread so far into the Indian Ocean.
The committee admits that members have revised their view on the carriage of armed guards on ships in the light of the fact that no ships carrying armed guards have so far been pirated; and violence has apparently not escalated. The committee reports: “We now believe that this practice should continue, provided that the guards are properly trained to a high standard to avoid accidental injury to innocent seafarers, and accredited.”
Nick Pickard, Head of Security Policy, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), said that five ships had been pirated in the first six months of the year. He attributed the decrease in successful pirate attacks to the military presence and the use of armed guards on ships, as well as better adherence to best management practices by industry. It was significant that attacks which had not resulted in the capture of a ship had also dropped: there had been 101 in 2011 and 25 so far in 2012.
However another witness speaking to the committee, Dr Lee Willett of the military think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told the lords, however, that the pirates were adaptable and resilient and were now increasing their activity on land. They had a business model and would find others ways of operating, such as kidnapping on shore.
As for armed private security guards on commercial shipping the committee had feared it would increase the risks to which the ships and crew were subject. In 2011, however, the Government revised their policy to enable UK-flagged ships to use armed guards and in November 2011, the Department for Transport, published guidance for UK-flagged shipping. The committee made the point that the issue was legally complex; and the UK is awaiting standard-setting internationally, which had started in the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Dr Willett believed that the use of armed guards, plus the proximity of naval ships, acted as a deterrent to pirates.The committee heard that concerns remain in the shipping world, in case use of firearms by civilians in self-defence led to an escalation in violence by pirates; though there has been no evidence of escalation to date. The committee heard wishes from the maritime sector that armed guards should not become institutionalised: such guards were not legal, or readily accepted, in the jurisdictions of many third states, and security companies standards might vary.
Lloyd’s Market Association gave an insurance perspective; insurers were pleased about UK Government guidance to shipping companies on armed guards but said they were “disquieted” by two loopholes: the exclusion of vessels under 500 gross tonnage and the proviso that arms could only be carried in the high risk area, which presented legal complications on weapon sourcing and access. They added that this also presented practical problems for those embarking and disembarking teams as both had to be done within the ‘High Risk Area’, but not all countries and their ports allowed this and it was impractical in mid-ocean. UK security teams were prevented from using floating arsenals, so that security teams from countries which allowed such access could displace the more professional and better qualified UK teams. Insurers believed that more needed to be done in the accreditation area as the efficiency and competence of a security provider could only be measured by word of mouth.