Speech

International action against piracy

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt has spoken about the UK's contribution to international efforts against piracy.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP

The United Kingdom is an island nation. We are rightly proud of our maritime past, but it is our present and our future with which I am primarily concerned. The British Shipping industry is a vital part of both our economy and society – employing over 48,000 of our citizens and turning over in excess of £12 billion. It is the Government’s responsibility to promote and protect UK shipping interests, and the space in which they operate.

These interests are affected today by a threat that has been around for centuries: I talk, of course, of piracy.

Since the mid-2000s, ships and seafarers from all over the world have been increasingly subjected to attacks whilst transiting the Gulf of Aden. Emboldened by a lack of central governance in Somalia and tempted by opportunities to profit from crime, the volume of hijackings peaked between 2009 and 2011, with an average of 171 attacks per year.

But last year saw a dramatic decline in pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia – to just 35, with the number of ships seized falling by over 80 percent compared to the previous year. This has not occurred by chance. It is the culmination of years of hard work from governments, international organisations and industry.

Nevertheless, it is by no means “mission accomplished”.

Progress is fragile and reversible. 108 hostages remain in pirate hands, often subjected to terrible conditions with no knowledge of when, or even if, they will be released. So we must stay the course; take the opportunity to press home our advantage and make the waters off the coast of Somalia safe once again.

And we must bear in mind that piracy and maritime insecurity are not problems specific to East Africa – the situation off Africa’s western seaboard is becoming increasingly serious. We must learn the lessons of our collective efforts off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere to help us combat this growing concern, whilst recognising the need to adapt our activities to the very different situation there.

Somalia

So the Government is determined to stay the course. We will continue to support our partners in the UN to deliver on the ground, and I will come onto the specific ways in which we are going to expand our support shortly. And we must continue to work with our partners in industry and internationally to continue driving down piracy.

As you will be aware, the challenges facing Somalia remain a key priority for the Government. Somalia is currently experiencing a level of political stability not seen for over two decades. There are many reasons for this, but I am in no doubt that last year’s London Conference on Somalia played a crucial role. It gave the international community an opportunity to look afresh – and holistically – at all of the issues facing Somalia and its people. A joint UK-Somalia conference, scheduled for 7 May, will provide an opportunity to sustain this momentum.

Coordination and cooperation

In parallel, there has been significant progress in tackling the instability which afflicts the surrounding seas. The key to this fragile success has been effective international coordination and cooperation and progress in tackling all parts of the piracy business model.

The international body that addresses piracy in the region – the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia – celebrated its fourth birthday last week. During those four years, it has become a model of best practice, bringing together more than 60 countries and organisations united by their common desire to tackle piracy in a flexible, can-do way.

The UK remains privileged to chair Working Group 1 of the Contact Group, allowing us to support and steer development of maritime security capabilities in Somalia and the region. We have pioneered capacity-building at sea and on land; and we have spearheaded new ways of working to coordinate this work. We are helping the international community take a comprehensive approach, reducing the risk of duplication and maximising the opportunities presented by the recent political progress in Somalia. I take this opportunity to congratulate Shell who have been instrumental in galvanising an industry contribution to capacity building initiatives ashore in Somalia since the London Conference.

We are also helping to coordinate the operations of an unprecedented number of navies. We play a key role in the European Naval Force’s Operation Atalanta, Combined Maritime Forces Task Force 151, and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield. These operations play a vital role in tackling piracy head on. They have carried out over 280 disruptions in the last two years and are continuing to make inroads.

I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the continuing efforts of our naval personnel.

Since October 2011, the Government has also permitted UK merchant ships to carry private security personnel when sailing in the high risk area off the coast of Somalia. This decision has proved to be the right one. Armed guards have made a significant contribution to deterring attacks. No vessel carrying armed security personnel has been successfully hijacked.

Of course, there are risks in deploying armed individuals onboard merchant ships – which is why we are working with industry and experts to develop guidelines to help mitigate these risks and why we insist that their use must always be part of a comprehensive strategy. And we are leading work with international partners to develop standards globally.

The preventative actions taken by the shipping industry are an integral part of this holistic approach. Around 98 percent of UK-flagged vessels are implementing Best Management Practice, which is welcome, but only about 70 percent of global shipping transiting the High Risk Area are compliant.

We must remember that self-protection measures remain the most effective method for avoiding a pirate attack. I would strongly encourage all parts of the shipping industry to adopt and continue to adhere to them in full. Industry use of BMP must remain high; it is having an impact but this trend is reversible – you must stay the course.

Prosecution and incarceration

The prosecution and incarceration of captured individuals is a crucial deterrent to would-be pirates and demonstrates that they cannot act with impunity. There are nearly 1,200 Somali pirates in custody in 21 countries. The UK is playing a leading role in helping to bring more pirates to justice.

Somalia does not yet have sufficient capability or capacity to prosecute pirates, so regional states are playing a crucial role. We and our international partners are committed to providing assistance to these countries. Our funding for two Crown Prosecution Service prosecutors based in the Seychelles is just one example. These highly experienced lawyers are prosecuting pirates for their crimes and providing training to local personnel to enable them to lead future prosecutions themselves.

We are also resolute in our ambition to facilitate the prosecution of pirate leaders and enablers – not least through our efforts to support the establishment of a Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre in the Seychelles. The centre will complement the work being performed by a number of international partners acting to prosecute pirate “kingpins”.

The successful prosecution of pirates inevitably leads to a demand for facilities where they can serve out their sentences. To alleviate pressure on prison space, we are working with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and their excellent counter-piracy programme to improve regional prison capacity.

Crucially, we are also funding the construction of prisons within Somalia, with the aim of rebuilding the country’s justice system from the ground up. And as the facilities in Somalia are developed, we are seeing that prisoners convicted by regional partners can be transferred back to Somalia to serve their sentences.

In March last year, the Seychelles transferred 17 convicted pirates to Somalia. This was, in part, made possible with the support the UK has provided for its refurbishment. We anticipate further transfers from Seychelles to Hargeisa later this year as part of a Post-Trial Transfer Programme, and hope to continue to work towards a position where pirates convicted in regional states are imprisoned in Somalia as a matter of routine.

Policy announcements

A further injection of the UK’s commitment to support international efforts to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia, I am announcing today UK funding of £2.2 million for the excellent work of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Counter Piracy Programme.

This support will first and foremost provide additional resources for the UNODC’s Post Trial Transfer Programme, in particular to complete the construction of a new prison in Garowe, Puntland, to hold convicted pirates in facilities that meet international standards. Prison capacity remains one of the biggest challenges we face in bringing pirates to justice and it is essential that we provide a targeted, long-term solution.

Secondly, it will fund a project to tackle corruption in the Somali penal system. As the UNODC continues the process of transferring pirates back to Somalia, we want to ensure that prisoners transferred serve their sentences in full. So this project extends existing anti-corruption training across all prisons in Somalia holding pirates.

Thirdly, it will support new and exciting work to secure Somalia’s coastline by developing Somali coast guard capability. The UNODC will work with maritime authorities in Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland to begin the process of re-establishing Somalia’s maritime integrity following political progress on the ground.

The UNODC will build a Vulnerable Prisoners Unit in the Seychelles to handle Somali pirates who cannot be housed with the Seychelles’ general prison population, which will help Seychelles capacity as a regional prosecuting partner and a leader of the RAPPICC initiative.

In Mauritius, UK support will fund a brand new courtroom facility equipped to handle piracy prosecutions.

Finally, I am pleased to announce a UK donation of £125,000 to the Contact Group Trust Fund to help support its counter piracy activities off the coast of Somalia.

West Africa

But as I have mentioned, it isn’t just off the coast of Somalia where we need to be resolute in tacking threats to our maritime security.

In particular, we have seen a worrying increase in the number of attacks by gangs in the Gulf of Guinea. The violence employed and the increase in hostages is especially troubling.

A tailored approach

Illegal oil theft in Nigeria alone costs their Treasury between $5 and $8 billion a year. The criminal gangs are highly skilled, organised and protected by corrupt officials. We have already seen attacks spread along the coast from Nigeria to Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon and further out to sea.

If left unchecked, it is likely they will continue to spread as more countries begin to exploit their offshore oil/gas reserves.

The situation off West Africa is of course different to that off Somalia, and so we must adapt our approach accordingly. Many of the states bordering the Gulf of Guinea are fragile, and have limited capacity to tackle the multitude of maritime crimes which threaten their economic development and stability, but comprise many emerging economies and they have the political will to address this problem. The UK is heavily involved in supporting a region-led response.

We are supporting the leadership shown by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States in the implementation of an Integrated Maritime Strategy. We are funding ECOWAS officers to help execute the Strategy.

We are also helping provide states with equipment and expertise to police their own coastal waters - for instance by providing assistance to the Cameroonian coast guard; training facilities in Nigeria and Ghana; and providing boats and a jetty to support counter-narcotics activity in Sierra Leone.

We must also continue to utilise Britain’s first-class navy to full effect. Last summer, HMS Dauntless conducted a comprehensive tour of the region participating in a multilateral counter-narcotics naval exercise, as well as hosting maritime security events in Ghana, Angola and Nigeria. She conducted training exercises with local navies, sharing experiences and forging links. We will build on these foundations with a further deployment in the spring.

I am also keenly aware of the need to apply lessons learnt from our experiences in East Africa.

Applying lessons learnt

The value of effective information sharing is one such lesson.

I applaud the work of the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, which has been leading development of a Maritime Trade Information Sharing Centre for the Gulf of Guinea (MTISC), with a range of partners in industry and among governments. The MTISC will act as an information and early warning system for the region, making a significant difference to the safety of crews and ships operating in the area. I am delighted that Ghana has agreed to host the centre and I hope it will be operational in the near future.

I am also pleased to see industry building upon this extensive work developing self-protection measures for the Indian Ocean High Risk Area, by preparing bespoke self-protection guidance as part of the MTISC project.

Conclusion

The British Government has made reducing piracy off the coast of Somalia a priority. We have worked with industry and international partners to combat the business model of piracy at every step of the process: by supporting and contributing to military efforts at sea, by building the capacity of regional states to bring pirates to justice, and by demonstrating that there are alternatives to piracy.

We have made great progress, but we should not be complacent. 2013 is a year of both risk and opportunity. An opportunity to press home hard-won gains, which the funding I announced today should help us to do. But there remains a very real risk that, if the international community does not continue to devote sufficient resources to counter-piracy initiatives, our fragile success will be reversed. We must not let this happen.

Piracy and maritime security are global issues. In today’s networked world, instability and disruption of trade in one area is not isolated to a particular country or region, but affects us all. Similarly, the increasing incidence of piracy and maritime crime off Africa’s western seaboard illustrates that, wherever in the world pockets of insecurity exist, criminal elements will seek to exploit it for financial gain. We must be vigilant to such threats and act to neutralise them.

We have demonstrated that when we work together we can thwart the intentions of those who would use threats and violence to extract financial gain. If we remain steadfast, we can eliminate the scourge of piracy from our seas.

Published 21 January 2013