Motion to Take Note

Piracy: Operation Atalanta (EUC Report) – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 10 November 2010.

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Moved By Lord Teverson

That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on Combating Somali Piracy: the EU's Naval Operation Atalanta (12th Report, Session 2009-10, HL Paper 103).

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy

My Lords, for those of us who have young children, or even grandchildren, pirates are a great topic of play, conversation, enjoyment and reading, particularly in children's books. Those of us who go to the cinema might see Johnny Depp or Keira Knightley playing roles in films set in the Caribbean. We enjoy that fun and think of piracy in terms of skulls and crossbones, sailing ships, the Caribbean, gold bullion, pieces of eight and possibly parrots. However, piracy nowadays is nothing like that at all; it is modern day and real. In many ways, it constitutes job sharing, as Somali pirates are sometimes fishermen, sometimes people traffickers between Yemen and Somalia and sometimes pirates. It is a very different trade and a very dangerous one that threatens not just individuals but international trade and security on the high seas. It is in that context that Operation Atalanta was started at the end of 2008-it is about to reach its second anniversary.

Let me give the House some background. Some 25,000 vessels a year pass through the Gulf of Aden and on into the Indian Ocean, so in some ways the 47 vessels that were hijacked last year and held to ransom seem a very small number. The 30-the number will probably be slightly larger by the end of the year-that have been hijacked during 2010 again seem a very small number in comparison with the 25,000 vessels passing through. However, that in no way represents the scale of the problem and the sore that this is to the carrying on of free trade and free movement across our oceans. For instance, as we speak, there are more than 400 detainees-people who are being held for ransom as hostages. Ransoms have risen from something like £2 million per vessel to £3 million per vessel from last year to this. There is an increasing amount of violence and the pirates are increasingly sophisticated, using mother ships and various ways to get round the technology and the forces that the western world in particular deploys. There are all these issues and some are getting worse.

Operation Atalanta is the first European naval operation and our committee reports that it has had considerable success in that, although the number of hijackings remains approximately the same, the number of attacks has gone down. The EU Atalanta force is just one of three in the area: there is also a NATO force and there are the combined maritime forces led largely by the United States. The great thing is that all these three operations, together with a number of individual navies from as far and wide as China and India, have been working closely together to overcome this problem. That is the good news. However, we also have on the other side the fact that the radius of pirate attacks is spreading far away from Somalia itself, out into the Indian Ocean. What the Navy often calls the risk-to-reward ratio-the amount of money that can be gained set against the risk of being caught-is very much still in the pirates' favour, despite all this international effort. However, there are also a number of agreements-two at the moment, with Kenya and Mauritius-under which pirates who are captured can be prosecuted. Those processes are moving forward as well, although there are some questions in this area on which I shall come back to my noble friend the Minister.

As I said, we have a number of good things happening, but the problem is far from solved. When the committee visited the operational centre at Northwood-this operation is very much run by the British military-we saw how well the situation room operates. The co-operation was not just between different national militaries but also with the merchant navies of many nations. That side is working extremely well and I congratulate Northwood on its operations and, in particular, the past commanders, Admiral Hudson and Admiral Jones, who appeared as witnesses before the committee to present their case and who ran Operation Atalanta very successfully.

Our report brings out a number of issues that we feel could still be put right and where matters could be improved quickly and effectively, often without greater resources.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Everybody will be grateful to him for bringing this important issue to the House. Does he agree that it is quite absurd that the taxpayers of the European Union should be supporting the deployment of all these warships in the Atalanta task force and that the lives of our sailors should be at risk in this way while we do absolutely nothing to inhibit the payment of ransoms to these pirates-for example, using the money-laundering rules, the terrorist asset-freezing rules or whatever other mechanisms might be available to us-and while the pirates continue to accumulate their ill gotten gains with complete impunity?

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention; in fact, I should like to come on to some of those issues, because they are important. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is nodding strongly and I am sure that he will intervene on some of those areas.

A key point is that this is a personal and dangerous issue to a number of people, not least the Chandlers-the two British subjects being held in Somalia. I should be interested to hear from the Minister about any progress there, as real lives are threatened. There is increasing violence and a risk that lives will be lost, either of hostages or of naval forces. Perhaps I could come back to that.

On the areas that the committee saw as particularly important, not many people realise that one of the prime objectives of the EU Atalanta force is the protection of the United Nations World Food Programme's deliveries of key aid into Somalia, without which much of the Somali population would hardly be able to survive at all. In this area, all the vessels delivering aid have been protected successfully, yet many of them, because of the World Food Programme's tendering system, are among the slowest and least capable of even staying afloat; they are often delayed for many days in port, while our own expensive and otherwise-to-be-used naval forces are waiting to convoy them in and out of those ports. We feel strongly that there should be an agreement in the tendering process that vessels delivering aid are up to the international standards of modern shipping, so that they can be properly guarded and therefore not so susceptible to piracy. Also, the EU naval forces should be able to board those vessels, rather than having to use a whole ship or asset to protect a vessel. That is an important area.

At the moment, there are no unmanned surveillance vehicles or aircraft that can be used. Understandably, they are not available to the United Kingdom forces because they are being used in Afghanistan, where the mission is more important. However, we believe that other EU forces could put such vehicles into operation and be far more effective in seeing and predicting attacks.

We believe that the insurance industry in particular is not taking enough responsibility for the vessels that it insures. The industry does not put enough pressure on international shipping to comply with best practice for vessels moving through the area. The statistics show that, for captains who comply with the strong procedures for booking in, going through the Gulf of Aden at certain times and being looked after by naval vessels, the rate of being hijacked is extremely low by comparison with others. Therefore, insurance companies should ensure that the best management practices are complied with by commanders and captains of vessels moving through the area. Improvement could well be made by the industry in various other areas. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will talk about that.

The EU's Operation Atalanta has been a reasonable success, but I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions. First, on prosecutions, many people ask, given all the resources that we put in, why, when we capture pirates or people who clearly have that purpose, they may be sent back to Somalia to reoffend, although their boats may be sunk. In Kenya, a number of prosecutions are taking place. It would be useful for the committee and the House to have an update on that. However, the agreement is faltering. Although it seems to be reconfirmed by Kenya every now and again, where is it actually going? Has the Mauritius agreement now been concluded and how are we going to make sure that pirates who are captured are properly prosecuted, jailed and removed from the scene?

The key thing that the report underlines is that this problem will not go away while we have a lawless state in Somalia. This sore will be there not just this year but next year and the year after, unless we are able to solve the problem of a failed state that is clearly unable to police its coastline. We all know that there is no easy solution, but I ask the Government how they see the international mission to assist the Somali forces progressing and what other areas of international co-operation they think can achieve what is needed.

The EU's Operation Atalanta, as I understand it, is about to be extended for another two years-the proposal will come before the Council in December. Although our committee has not yet considered it, I personally believe that that is the right decision. However, I warn this House that, if we do not solve this problem, there will be a number of dangers ahead of us. One is that we have, in ransom and hostages, a whole black market and black economy, involving very large sums of money. We do not know where that money goes. It certainly goes into criminality and no doubt some of it goes into supporting very poor communities, but there is an ongoing risk that this money will be diverted and used by others for terrorism.

A second concern is that, although so far there have not been deaths of crew members and hostages, the committee believes that this is a very real prospect for the future. However good we get at finding ways around and avoiding hijacks, at some point lives will be lost. This means that this subject must remain a top priority for all of us.

Thirdly, it will not just be us here in Westminster, in this House, who are looking at this problem and seeing that an estimated £100 million was raised by piracy last year. Elsewhere in the globe, this will be copied in other failed states or in places where the writ of government does not extend throughout the territory. I know that there have already been incidents off the coast of west Africa. This is a cancer that could grow.

We like to see Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley and pirates on our cinema screens and we like our children and grandchildren pretending to be under the skull and crossbones. However, this is dangerous area, particularly for those hostages-some 400-who are held at the moment. It is a problem that the world community must solve. Operations such as the EU's Operation Atlanta may be successful, but they are sticking plasters. At the end of the day, the core of the problem is about bringing failed states into proper government. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative 3:53, 10 November 2010

My Lords, before I left Sub-Committee C, I was very concerned that this report was going to be both inconsequential and thoroughly wet; I am afraid that that is what it has turned out to be. It is inconsequential because its main findings are that everything should carry on as it has been over the past few months. As my noble friend Lord Teverson pointed out, things are not improving in any way whatever. I would have been much happier if this report had shown courage in trying to change the way that we are dealing with this very serious problem.

The report, as my noble friend Lord Teverson has indicated, called for additional resources-as all reports like this are liable to do-but that is flying in the face of the fact that certainly the Europeans are cutting their defence budgets in every direction. UAVs are in very short supply. Certainly, the British could not produce them, because if we have any we want to use them in Afghanistan. I do not know whether any other European countries have spare UAVs. Everybody wants helicopters, and our strategic defence review has cut the number of capital ships that the Royal Navy will have, so we would ask for more resources more in hope than reality.

My noble friend Lord Teverson referred to the risk/reward ratio for Somali pirates that was mentioned in the report. It is extraordinary that it is almost impossible to catch any of these pirates. You have to catch them in the act of committing piracy, which is extremely difficult. It is not legitimate, if you catch a small boat with ladders and grappling hooks and God knows what else, to say that this indicates that these people are pirates. All that you can do in those circumstances is confiscate the ladders and grappling hooks, if they have not already been thrown overboard before you capture the boat. The risks that Somali pirates run of being caught are very small. We will have to see whether the 400 who are awaiting trial receive any significant punishments. We should make no mistake: the law enforcement going on is not much of a disincentive to these pirates.

The rewards-the millions paid in ransoms-amount to multiples of lifetime earnings for Somali fishermen. The rewards are extremely high for these people, and the risks have not been developed nearly enough. The stakes must be raised. It was extraordinary that the report said it was a very good idea if uniformed military people went on cargo ships, presumably so that if they were attacked by pirates, they could shoot at them; but that it was not a good idea to use civilian security guards to do the same thing-although, as we know, civilian security guards in these circumstances might have been people in uniform a few months earlier, and just as well trained as any of the military. There is a hang-up about this. The International Maritime Organisation and the shipping industry do not like the idea of using armed security guards, but we must do this. There is a moment when pirates approach a ship to attack it when they are extremely vulnerable. At that point, a guard with a machine-gun can create appalling havoc in that boat. We must start raising the stakes, otherwise we will get absolutely nowhere.

My noble friend Lord Teverson referred to the fact that the violence is now increasing. This blows away the idea that somehow, if we use violence against pirates, they will increase the violence that they use against us. We are at the moment collapsing under every threat from the pirates, yet still the violence is increasing. In the evidence given in the back of the report, I mentioned that I had listened to a programme about a merchant captain who had been attacked by pirates. He was sprayed with AK-47 machine-gun bullets on his ship, and two rocket-propelled grenades were fired. One of them missed the bridge and the other went into a fuel tank. The tank was empty, which I said at the time was probably a good thing. As noble Lords will know, if you have a fuel tank with a lot of fumes in it, you can end up with an explosive mixture which can blow apart a ship. If the tank had been half-filled with fuel, that probably would have been the most likely thing to have blown up the ship completely. These people are not mucking about. They are playing a very dangerous game and we are treating them with kid gloves. I fail to understand why.

I also thought that the whole attitude of the report to paying ransoms was unbelievable. We said that we should go off and employ professional ransom negotiators. Has it not occurred to members of the committee that if you do this, you are merely feeding the dragon? You are encouraging more people to go out and kidnap people on ships and ask for ransoms. It would have been better if the committee had shown a bit of courage and said that we should stop paying ransoms because, until we do, this piracy will go on indefinitely. Why do we recommend that armed military personnel should go on merchant ships but not private security guards who carry out precisely the same operation?

This is a disappointing report. It will do nothing to reduce the amount of piracy in the Red Sea and I regret that I came off the committee and could not express my views more forcefully there.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 4:00, 10 November 2010

My Lords, that was a typically combative and robust contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. Like him, I have now left the committee. I have a somewhat more positive view of the report than he does, although I can see that it was rushed at the end because of the imminence of the general election.

I had the honour of visiting Northwood Headquarters on two occasions, one with the committee and another with the European Security and Defence Assembly committee. I have also on two occasions in recent years visited Somaliland on a governance mission. I was struck at Northwood by the degree of co-operation between the military and the private sector-ship owners, oil companies and so on-and, as the Government stress in their reply to the report, the unprecedented international co-operation in the region.

Atalanta is a European Union operation commanded by the UK, based in the UK and relying on a UN mandate. I hope this experience of the first CSDP naval operation will lead the Government to have a warmer attitude to the worth of the CSDP. The EU exercises both hard and soft power with an array of military and civilian instruments. It is not a threat to either the United States or NATO; indeed, the US welcomes the EU CSDP operations, while NATO provides the Berlin Plus arrangements to assist.

Overall, the committee was impressed with the operation but highlighted a number of shortcomings, some of which have been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson: for example, maritime surveillance, including helicopters; UAVs; and tanker and medical facilities. The government reply points out that at a meeting on 10 June there were agreements "in principle" in this sector. I ask the Minister when we will see real progress and not just agreement in principle.

The evidence before the committee revealed certain matters for further exploration. First, there was a lack of available interpreters. We have a Somali diaspora in the UK of 300,000 people. Surely it would be possible to find some interpreters within this community.

Secondly, there was a lack of sufficiently robust response from the insurance industry, whose representatives seemed extraordinarily complacent. I anticipate that my noble friend Lord Sewel will have one or two words on this matter. Why not vary the premiums according to the degree of compliance by ship owners with advice and best practice?

Thirdly, there was the need to improve the quality and speed of the vessels chartered for the World Food Programme. Again there was an agreement in principle but nothing much appears to have happened.

Fourthly, perhaps the experts too readily rejected the citadel concept of fortifying a part of the ships so that the pirates have to spend more time. On 12 September, US Marines re-took the MV "Magellan Star" as the crew had hidden themselves safely in a secure room below deck.

Fifthly, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, has suggested, perhaps the main failure has been in dealing with pirates who have been captured.

There has been a relative worsening in the position. In 2009, there were the highest ever number of attacks by Somali pirates-over 200 attacks, with over £40 million believed to have been paid in ransoms. Currently, 19 ships and more than 400 civilian hostages are being held. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested, it is not true that no one has been killed. Indeed, one yachtsman was killed last week because he refused to board a pirate vessel. Perhaps the Minister could indicate whether that person was, as some suggest, a British national. Certainly the South Africans say that he was not a South African national.

What has been called the "legal shambles" has been recognised by the UN Secretary-General, who at the end of August appointed Jack Lang-not only a French politician but a distinguished professor of international maritime law-as his special adviser on piracy. Lang, as is his wont, has been most active since and will report to the UN Secretary-General by the end of January. The officials to the committee and elsewhere praise, of course, the agreements reached with Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles, and others are being negotiated, particularly with Mauritius. The truth is that impunity is the norm and the cost benefit remains very substantially in favour of the pirates. The crews of warships routinely release the pirates after throwing their arms into the sea. Six hundred or so pirates have so far been released and will no doubt be back in the water within a week or so. Obviously, we in Europe do not wish to fill our prisons with Somalis, but there are allegations that these local agreements are in disarray. The Government reply that Kenya has announced publicly its decision to continue, but some commentators doubt that this will happen. The Seychelles did indeed sign an agreement in February but on condition that those convicted are imprisoned elsewhere. Will the Minister confirm that Mauritius, after several months of deliberation, has still not reached a decision?

Yet the needs are vast. The UN report published in July stated that 2,000 prison places are needed before the end of next year. Surely, as the UN report argues, there should be a step change-perhaps Somali courts in third countries or increasing contributions from ship owners. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, has offered Somaliland-which is of course effectively independent, although not recognised as such-and Puntland substantial aid if they co-operate against the pirates, and the UN has already refurbished some prisons there. One naval officer to whom I spoke suggested that the solution might be an island off the Somali coast, fortified by the UN and EU but under Somali sovereignty.

In short, we should not be carried away by the evidence of partial success. The situation has only been stabilised. We need new and intensified initiatives, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, suggested, the starting point is as Jack Lang stated on his appointment: "Piracy is a symptom". Mr Lang also said:

"We have to attack piracy at its source-poverty, instability, the growing presence of Al-Qaeda in south Somalia".

In replying, will the Minister say how valid the allegations are that western companies have contributed to the problem by illegal fishing, pillaging the Somalis' fishing resources, and dumping toxic waste off the coast of Somalia, removing the livelihood of Somali fishermen? What is being done to counter this? We should also recognise the real danger of increased regional instability. I cite the bombing in Uganda and the evidence of financial irregularities in Kenya. The African Union and regional organisations such as COMESA point out the hidden cost to the countries of the region of increased insurance premiums-apparently more than £400 million for Kenya. The Wall Street Journal reported on 11 September that terrorists have moved beyond taxing pirates' receipts to direct piracy themselves.

Surely we need to go a step further beyond the current containment, which was the theme of the recent African Union conference. This conference recognised the comparative failure of the current strategy and the dangers of increased terrorist activity. Let us be realistic about Somalia itself. The internationally recognised Government, the TFG, controls only a few blocks in Mogadishu, and are now themselves subject to splits. According to a recent Chatham House speaker, a country of 9 million people needs a stabilisation force of 100,000, not AMISOM's 5,000 to 6,000 Ugandan and Burundi forces, which now have an excessively limited mandate.

We need to look seriously at the status of Puntland and particularly at Somaliland, the old British protectorate with its capital Hargeisa. Somaliland is a relative haven of stability in that benighted region. It held democratic elections on 26 June-88 per cent of the 1 million-plus electorate voted-and it has a free press. An article in Le Monde diplomatique on 1 October, comparing Somalia with Somaliland, stated:



"is a failed state, the other"-



Somaliland, working as it does in a pretty democratic way, is one example of how Somalis, given the chance, can rule themselves in a proper way. The Somalis in Kenya are extremely enterprising, particularly in shopping malls and real estate, although sometimes one wonders where they get the money from for these particular enterprises. The international community should consider renewing the recognition of Somaliland, which was briefly independent in 1960.

Finally, as Rear Admiral Condreau, the naval force commander, has argued, the international community should consider taking action on land against pirate camps on shore. Equally, it should consider further steps to help fund the coastguard service in Somalia; this was the theme of a German conference of the DIW in July. The government reply says this has already started. The international community should also initiate a robust anti-money-laundering operation and further capacity building within Somalia, particularly Somaliland and Puntland, in prosecutors, courts and buildings.

Yes, the report shows some success, in spite of the formidable obstacle of 3,000 kilometres of coastline to be policed. It shows a limited but impressive military operation, but we should not allow ourselves to be carried away. We must recognise that, if we are to proceed beyond the current containment, we need greater resources, a greater commitment and more innovative thinking.

Photo of Lord Chidgey Lord Chidgey Liberal Democrat 4:13, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I, too, have to join the club of past members of the committee, so I am really pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate. It enables me to place on record my appreciation of the efforts of the witnesses in our inquiry, who gave their evidence with great clarity and in great depth. We gained a better understanding of these complex issues than would otherwise have been possible.

With the passage of time, our inquiry has to be seen in perspective. The evidence was taken between November 2008 and March 2010. Now, some eight months and a general election and a change of Government later, I think we should take stock of the developments over time. In that regard, I think the publication of the report of the United Nations Secretary-General just two weeks ago is particularly timely and helpful.

Our inquiry highlighted the fact that one of the strengths of the EU Operation Atalanta, headquartered at Northwood, was the clarity of its mandate. Visiting Northwood, as we did under the guidance of our chairman-and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on his report-we found it was really clear that the group of naval officers drawn from several navies, working together with merchant shipping specialists, were operating as an integrated team, unlike anything I had ever seen before. This occurred under the very effective leadership of a British admiral, Rear-Admiral Hudson, who I thought was doing an amazing job.

Atalanta's mandate is quite clear. To summarise it, it is to support humanitarian aid to Somalia through the World Food Programme, to support supply ships to the AU mission, AMISOM and the TFG, to protect the world merchant shipping transiting a high risk area and, finally, to deter, disrupt and break up pirate groups. This last objective is clearly proving to be the most challenging.

In delivering the framework of Operation Atalanta, the Royal Navy has rightly earned universal praise. The Navy's experience and credibility has been an outstanding feature, in the best traditions of the service. Having spent my youth in Portsmouth, noble Lords will understand my affection for the work of the Royal Navy. There is nothing new about acts of piracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, pointed out, and the Royal Navy's engagement with piracy on our vital trade routes is part of our history and heritage over hundreds of years. The days when East India merchant ships could be disguised as a Royal Navy ship of the line by painting them black and white around their gun ports are long gone, and so are the guns, but piracy always was and remains vicious, cruel and intensely criminal.

As the inquiry has shown, Somali piracy is as much linked with events on the land as it is with taking valuable prizes at sea. The Secretary-General confirmed in his report that more than 20 nations, together with the EU, NATO and the League of Arab States, as well as international shipping and related agencies have all been engaged in the UN-led assessment and recommendations to tackle Somali piracy. They have helped to develop anti-piracy and counterpiracy measures as part of an overall strategy of the Djibouti peace agreement, contributing to the long-term solution for the country.

As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, also mentioned, in evidence to our inquiry, the number of successful pirate attacks was given as steady at, I think, 48 in 2008 and 43 in 2009, with a 100 per cent record of protecting World Food Programme ships. Comparing that with the UN report eight months later, 164 attacks were reported in 2010, of which 37 were successful, mainly in the western Indian Ocean. The number of thwarted attacks rose by at least 70 per cent, which shows some measure of success.

We can confirm that Operation Atalanta has proven to be a credible force in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. It is not perfect, it is not absolute, but it has made some credible steps. Let us bear in mind that we are considering one of the busiest marine channels in the world, with one-quarter of global trade being carried on, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned, about 25,000 ships every year. It is a vital marine artery and an important supply route from the Gulf of Aden into Europe and the United States, carrying up to 100 ships a day.

By establishing an international transit corridor with credible shipping management and policing, as has been done through Operation Atalanta, piracy activities have effectively been pushed further out to sea-as much as 1,500 miles into the Indian Ocean. Clearly, there never could be enough warships to police the tens of thousands of square miles of sea involved. Much more still needs to be done with and by the shipping industry to counter this long-range piracy, which brings me directly to the point that noble Lords have mentioned on the topic of capacity shortfalls.

In 2010, pirate activity has increased with the development of the concept of the mother ship, able to tow two or three attack skiffs behind and allowing long-range attacks on larger merchantmen much further out at sea. The availability of long-range surveillance patrol aircraft has been mentioned. It is true that that is essential to the operation's ability to track down deepwater pirate activity. Marine patrol aircraft were the asset that the operation felt was needed most, but to enable a full daily sortie in the Gulf of Aden, there was a minimum threshold of three patrol aircraft over and above ship-based helicopters. This requirement has not been met and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, points out, probably cannot be met because those resources are just not available. At the time of the inquiry, as well as an absence of patrol aircraft, the EU had no access to unmanned airborne vehicles either, although the US apparently had some at a base in the Seychelles. Perhaps in his response, the Minister can bring us up to date on where we are with that.

As the report has noted, it is a measure of the success of Atalanta and of other international forces that pirates have been forced to operate further offshore, increasing this risk-to-reward ratio, but it is with the use of more easily identifiable mother ships. With pirates now roaming extraordinarily long distances from their home shores, the number of successful hijackings versus the number of attempted hijackings has dropped from 50 per cent to around 25 per cent. At the same time ransom demands are increasing together with the duration vessels are held and, much more worryingly, threats of violence to crews.

The vice-chairman of the Oil Companies International Marine Forum, Jan Kopernicki, speaking recently in Parliament at Westminster, was concerned that as pirate activity intensified, there was a growing danger of civilian seamen being killed. He believed we were approaching a tipping point and that, should great violence and possibly deaths occur, civilian seamen would basically take the view that it was not worth the gamble to take up contracts to sail ships through this area. With the latest payment of ransoms of more than $11 million to release just two ships and the total ransoms now paid being somewhere in excess of $150 million, does the Minister acknowledge that we are reaching a point where discussions need be had with the international marine insurance industry over the investment that it could make to enhance the capacity of anti-piracy measures to reduce the risks to the industry and, therefore, the cost of insurance? In the latest release of a Saudi supertanker, the value of its cargo was put in excess of $150 million, which gives us some idea of the figures involved.

The inquiry has recorded similar concerns with shipping arrangements for the World Food Programme. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned, the small, slow ships it tends to charter may be cheaper but they are far more vulnerable to attack and thus more costly to protect. The proposals that shipping companies should make a contribution to enable the WFP to charter more suitable vessels have to be welcomed, strongly supported and pressed for, as do proposals that ships' flag states should allow military personnel on board WFP vessels bound for Somalia. It is almost a return to the 18th-century piracy prevention custom, perhaps, to allow armed men on board, but in the last three years EU, NATO, and Russian Federation warships have escorted 110 ships chartered by the World Food Programme, carrying over half a million tonnes of food to 1.8 million Somalis. To their great credit this protection has been provided at no charge.

Clearly, the spread of piracy in Somalia and the Horn of Africa will not be reversed without addressing the root causes. There is a good deal to do to overcome instability and the lack of the rule of law. The United Kingdom, together with the EU, is a member of the International Contact Group on Somalia, supporting the efforts of the fledgling Transitional Federal Government and the African Union's AMISOM towards establishing a peaceful environment, but this does woefully less than it needs to to bring the stability that we need. There is no doubt that capacity-building is the key issue. The EU is taking a comprehensive approach but the causes of the fighting and insecurity in Somalia are deep-rooted and complex. We have to give the Somalis the means and the incentive to gain peace and security through the TFG by their own actions in due course.

Piracy in the region has had an immense impact on the economies of East African nations. The severity of the problem off the coast of Somalia is a relatively recent phenomenon but it will be with us for a long time to come and has the potential to become far worse unless the international community and Somalia address the root causes. In this regard, it is disturbing to find that even this week the UN reports on human rights issues in the Horn of Africa highlight the abduction of children by armed groups in Somalia to be taken not now as child soldiers but as child pirates to supplement the resources of the businessmen who operate the piracy scene off the Somali coast.

My final comment is that we should look carefully again at the work of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He makes the point very strongly that there is an urgent need to address and combine vital sea-based and judicial counterpiracy measures, which are set out in his report and, as has been highlighted in this debate, in support of the Djibouti peace agreements. Maritime security needs complementary action inshore and in the zone between the coast and international waters in addition to counterpiracy action on the high seas. Increased Somali capacity on land and in inshore waters needs to be linked to institutional strengthening of the security sector. In particular, there needs to be economic development to provide alternative activity in the maritime environment, especially among the young, to lure them away from the pirate economy.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 4:25, 10 November 2010

My Lords, the whole House will want to welcome the 12th report of the European Union Committee entitled Combating Somali Piracy and the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The report is timely and urgent, and it is clear from the preceding speeches that those who served on the committee have done us all a great service in bringing this important issue before us for debate. I read the report against the backdrop of two public lectures I have chaired for my university over the past 12 months, and here I declare an interest. One of those lectures was given by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, the former Minister for Africa, and the other by General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of our Armed Forces. Both said that they suspected that if there was going to be the deployment of an international force anywhere else in Africa in the future, it would be in Somalia. Both pinpointed that country as being one of the most dangerous places in the world today.

I was also struck, when I was in Africa myself in September visiting southern Sudan, southern Ethiopia and Lake Turkana in the north-west of Kenya, by how frequently I heard the refrain that Somali insurgents had been responsible for often low-level crimes but also killings, cattle raiding and rustling, thus adding to the destabilisation of many parts of that already destabilised area of Africa. So I turned to what I think was the most important point made by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Chidgey, about the root causes. The executive summary states quite baldly that:

"There will be no solution to the problem of piracy without a solution to the root causes of the conflict on land in Somalia".

In her evidence, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, 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".

Paragraph 61 of the conclusions states:

"It is clear that without addressing the root causes of the conflict in Somalia, piracy will continue to flourish".

That was a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, in his evidence:

"The real answer is that this is a product of conditions on land in Somalia and obviously what we have got to do is press on with our political-cum-development efforts to stabilise Somalia and to deal with the authorities in Somalia proper".

He added:

"We are cautiously encouraged that we are finally getting some traction on a political strategy for the country".

However, that evidence was given on 19 March 2009, and certainly the reports referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in his speech and to which I will return later in my own remarks, do not demonstrate that any optimism about the situation in Somalia is called for at the moment. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has to say about his assessment of the current situation.

I want to talk about the root causes of this failed state. The United Nations independent expert on Somalia calls the situation,

"One of the most difficult humanitarian crises in the world", stating that Somalia's human rights situation is "deplorable".

Power over most of the country has passed into the hands of the Islamist group, al-Shabaab. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said earlier, the transitional federal Government have neither the effective power nor the capacity to deal with many of the systematic abuses that are taking place. Somalis experience severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and press; they face capital punishment, human rights violations and gender-based crime-female genital mutilation is performed on 91 per cent of Somali girls. Children have been recruited and taught how to assassinate and how to plant bombs. In violation of both international and African regional human rights law, al-Shabaab threatens, unlawfully punishes and kills civilians, including journalists, who it sees as sympathetic to the transitional federal Government, or who do not conform to its interpretation of Islamic law. Almost no area of existence escapes al-Shabaab's gaze.

A report compiled by the human rights group, Jubilee Campaign, which I helped to co-found, details how al-Shabaab has outlawed activities as trivial as dancing at weddings, playing football, watching television, storing pictures on cell phones and sporting western clothes or hairstyles. One report claims that a patrol even jailed a group of teenagers for playing Scrabble.

Academic freedom is not respected and some schools have been penalised for teaching so-called "western" subjects, including English and science. The right to freedom of assembly is also denied. In many areas public gatherings are prohibited unless al-Shabaab has organised them, and those who protest al-Shabaab's edicts are harshly punished. In 2009, al-Shabaab violently dispersed a peaceful protest against the outlawing of the chewing of khat, arresting 50 people in the process.

Most Somalis are too afraid to oppose al-Shabaab. Human Rights Watch aptly refers to a "climate of fear" prevailing in Somalia, citing one Somali who told it that,

"we just stay quiet. If they tell us to follow a certain path, we follow it ... anybody who does not follow their beliefs they call a traitor and kill".

While, in theory, Somalia's transitional federal charter calls for freedom of speech and press, in reality these are very limited. Freedom House states that objective reporting in Somalia is a "rarity". Somalia is regarded as the deadliest country for journalists in Africa. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists, nine journalists were killed in 2009 alone, and at least three of those killings were targeted. Al-Shabaab is also reported to have closed radio stations and occupied the offices of those it suspects of sympathising with its opponents. Many journalists have chosen either to leave Somalia altogether or to exercise rigorous self-censorship.

But if press freedom has been suppressed in Somalia, so has religious freedom. The majority of Somalis are moderate Sunni Muslims of a Sufi tradition. However, with the help of foreign jihadists, and often through violence, al-Shabaab has been forcing extremism on communities under its control. As for minorities, Somalia's small Christian population has experienced discrimination, violence and detention because of its beliefs. In particular, those suspected of conversion face harassment and even death. In 2008, al-Shabaab beheaded 11 people accused of converting to Christianity, as well as killing one man for possessing a Bible. In 2009, the insurgents executed a clan leader for alleged apostasy and beheaded two sons of a Christian leader. The non-governmental organisation Open Doors' World Watch List ranked Somalia number four on a list of countries with the worst records on Christian persecution in 2010, following Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Members of other Muslim groups were also targeted by al-Shabaab. The UN Security Council's Monitoring Group on Somalia reported that al-Shabaab has,

"attempted to ban Sufi Religious practices".

Since 2008, al-Shabaab has destroyed a number of graves belonging to Sufi saints and clerics, as well as banning the traditional Islamic celebration of Maulid and arresting 50 Sufi clerics for breaking the ban. Al-Shabaab is also reported to have killed Sufi clerics, officials and civilians in acts of targeted religious violence. For example, in 2009, members of al-Shabaab gunned down Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim "Elbuur", a prominent religious leader, allegedly for his moderate Islamic views and his condemnations of violence.

Al-Shabaab's fanatical religious agenda has also led to the implementation of a crude version of Sharia law, resulting in the cruel and degrading treatment of countless Somalis. All activities considered immoral or contrary to Islam are targets for corporal and capital punishment. Amnesty International reports, for example, that, in 2009, members of al-Shabaab flogged women for wearing bras, claiming that it was against Islam. Attention is directed particularly towards extra-marital sex, punishable by flogging or execution. Theft is punished by amputation, and the renunciation of Islam is punished by execution on the grounds that certain texts prohibit such activities and endorse their corresponding punishments. The level of abuse is staggering. In contempt of international law, al-Shabaab is reported to have carried out numerous amputations and other forms of violent punishment, often in front of community members whom they force to attend. In 2008, for instance, al-Shabaab gathered hundreds of spectators in a football stadium to watch a stoning for alleged adultery, imposing the death penalty for actions such as extra-marital sex. That is clearly contrary to international law. UNICEF reported that the girl in question was only 13 and had been sentenced to death after being gang-raped.

Women suffer deplorable treatment. While all society has been affect by al-Shabaab's repressive measures, women have been hit the hardest. Reports of sexual and gender-based violence are widespread. I have mentioned female genital mutilation, but domestic violence is reported to be a major problem. There are reports of rape being on the increase in some areas. The key issue is that there is no functioning judicial system to which women can turn, and victims of rape are often stigmatised as impure. Law is enforced by the demand of payment of blood money or forced marriage between the victim and the perpetrator.

Somalia has also generated human trafficking, child soldiers and refugees. There are reports of systematic forced recruitment of civilians, including children, into insurgent ranks. All warring parties are accused of swelling their ranks with child soldiers. UNICEF has expressed concern that the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Somalia is rising, with widespread recruitment from schools and madrassahs and among street children. Al-Shabaab recruits children deliberately and systematically. In March 2009 alone, it was reported to have recruited 600 children. The insurgents train and use those children to carry out assassinations and to plant bombs. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, they are also now recruited to join pirate crews.

As for refugees, today's November update from the UNHCR gives a glimpse of the situation. It has issued an urgent appeal to Kenya to halt the refoulement of Somali refugees. It states:

"UNHCR remains very concerned over the fate of the more than 8000 Somalis who were ordered out of the Mandera area of northeast Kenya at the start of November. Initially most moved into the no-man's land between Kenya and Somalia and refused to go further. As of 5th November it appeared however that some have dispersed, while others are believed to have fled into neighbouring Ethiopia".

What can the Minister tell us about their fate? The update continues:

"In his speech to UNHCR's executive committee, in October, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, appealed for Somalis to receive international protection in line with the updated eligibility guidelines that UNHCR issued earlier this year. Those guidelines point to the very substantial risks for anyone being returned to central or southern Somalia".

Are we assisting in that process?

The situation inside the country fuels the exodus of refugees. In Mogadishu, civilians suffer from repeated, inaccurate and indiscriminate exchanges of mortar fire between warring parties. Numerous civilians have been killed and many injured, and their homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and marketplaces have been destroyed. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch highlights the use of improvised explosive devices and indiscriminate firing of mortars into densely populated civilian areas without regard for either civilian lives or the international law that seeks to protect them.

Lest the House imagines that Somalia's violence is simply an internal matter, let us recall that Somalis are increasingly responsible for terror attacks in other countries. On 12 July, 74 people died in a bomb attack in Uganda believed to have been orchestrated by Somali terrorists. Piracy, which has been a serious problem since 2005, has fuelled the terrorism and the criminality. Somali piracy now looks like a sophisticated and organised multi-million pound industry. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime considers Somali piracy,

"a serious organized crime problem", and warns that it has been,

"feeding national organized crime networks".

In addition to piracy, Somalia has reportedly become a "free economic zone" for all kinds of smuggling and trafficking: drugs, arms, natural resources, hazardous waste as well as people. The same boats used for piracy are used to smuggle migrants from Somalia to Yemen and to bring arms and ammunition on their return journey to Somalia. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia suggests that the smuggling of migrants, especially across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, has resulted in numerous casualties. Smugglers pack hundreds of Somalis and Ethiopians into small vessels, throwing tens of people overboard when they enter troubled waters. In 2006, the Independent newspaper reported that dozens of corpses were found floating in the Arabian Sea every month, often with gunshot wounds and hands tied behind their backs.

This is not a marginal issue to be wished away or ignored. As the Committee rightly recognises in its timely report, unless the root causes that destabilise the country and degrade Somalis are tackled, we can expect to see more acts of piracy-acts which are simply a manifestation of something far more fundamental, a deadly dangerous internal situation in Somalia, which the international community cannot afford to ignore.

Photo of Lord Inge Lord Inge Crossbench 4:40, 10 November 2010

My Lords, first, I should say how much I enjoyed being a member of this sub-committee, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton. I learnt a great deal, although what I learnt rather depressed me.

There is no doubt that the piracy problem in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean remains a significant threat to international shipping. We have to recognise that we are in this for the long haul; there are no quick fixes to the piracy problem in that area. We have to remember that Yemen is becoming more of a threat in the area. Certainly, Operation Atalanta has helped to reduce the level of piracy, but I agree with the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton-and I declare an interest as an adviser to a private security company-that unless some international shipping is prepared to put guards on its boats, the piracy problem will remain a significant threat. Those guards would have to be properly trained and registered.

This will be a long-term problem. Separating the problem of piracy from the problems on land in Somalia is extremely difficult, because the Somalis are a ruthless, successful enemy and well capable of changing their tactics and methods of operation. They have never been used to a strong Government. I am also worried about internal instability in Yemen, which, in my view, will increase the threat and is not going to be defeated easily. With the combination of Yemen, piracy and the problems on land in Somalia, we must recognise that if we in the international community are going to do anything, we are in this for a very long haul and will require considerable forces to do it.

In all this, good intelligence is absolutely vital. We are improving our intelligence co-operation. Collection has improved, but why cannot we get a Gulf country, if need be, or a European nation to provide proper maritime surveillance aircraft, as that is the main intelligence gap? It is rather sad that we are cutting Nimrod from the capability of the future equipment programme of our Armed Forces. If the European Union or NATO cannot provide that capability on a rotation basis, we must recognise that a significant gap will remain in our operational effectiveness. We should talk to our Gulf allies, as some of them have quite sophisticated maritime intelligence-gathering capabilities, and ask whether they would be prepared to help, particularly given the problems increasing in Yemen.

I should be interested to learn from the Minister what other capabilities the Government believe are required to improve the operational effectiveness not only of Operation Atalanta but of the protection of shipping itself. Would the Government be prepared to have guards on board ships, if they were properly trained? That would be a great improvement in the capability.

Furthermore, have we talked to the Governments of Singapore and Malaysia about how they tackled piracy in the Malacca straits? I am told that the problem may be on the increase there, although they clearly dealt with it at one stage. I wondered whether there were any lessons that we could learn from that. Other noble Lords have spoken about the World Food Programme's use of small ships and the requirement for greater military protection. I hope that we will manage to do something to make them co-operate more clearly with Operation Atalanta.

Finally, much has been said on this by others, but will the Minister say whether we are being realistic in thinking that the Seychelles and Kenya will try these pirates and whether that will have any real impact on their operational effectiveness? I shall not repeat much of what has already been said, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for what he did in leading the team. I believe that this is an issue that we need to stay with, because it is not going to go away anytime soon.

Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 4:45, 10 November 2010

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my friend and neighbour, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Although I am now a member of Sub-Committee C, sadly I was not a member when this report was put together. However, I am at the same time a rapporteur of a committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and a year ago I presented a report on behalf of one of its committees on the Somali piracy situation, which was accepted by the Assembly. This weekend in Warsaw, at the annual meeting of the NATO Assembly, I shall again be presenting a report, which is entitled Maritime Security: NATO and EU Roles and Co-ordination.

I have spoken here before about the need for much closer co-operation between NATO and the EU. In some cases, that co-operation continues to be abysmal. The lack of co-operation between NATO and the EU is often explained away because of the situation with regard to Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, but in spite of that I believe that there should be no reason not to have much greater co-operation in certain fields, especially now that France has rejoined the central command structure of NATO. As an example-this has nothing to do with Somalia-in the Mediterranean, NATO and the EU both operate, on one hand with FRONTEX and on the other hand with Active Endeavour. However, the separate activities there, although similar, are barely co-ordinated. It is true, I think, that NATO and the EU work together a good deal better in Somalia than in other places, so that is a start, which I very much welcome.

The situation off the Horn of Africa is becoming even more worrying-I agree with many of the things that my noble friend Lord Hamilton said about that. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, referred to the continuing, very serious situation: the number of kidnapped seafarers; the fact that 2010 is likely to be worse than 2009; the almost £100 million that the terrorists got last year; the widening area of pirate activity; the problem of arresting Somalis cruising around in small boats with heavy weapons and no fishing nets and therefore no evidence to convict when they throw their weapons overboard; and the hesitant legal process in Kenya and other places. We badly need to encourage the development of much better international legislation to enable the prosecution of suspects to be made easier. Introducing photographic evidence of weaponry being thrown overboard in certain designated areas in prosecuting a criminal offence might be one way of doing it.

Of course it is true, as others have said, that the long-term solution to this problem lies in the establishment of a much firmer Government in Somalia, but other, wider things can be done in the mean time before we achieve a major improvement in that field. We heard a moment ago from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, about the Strait of Malacca. Somalia is, of course, not the only place in the world where maritime safety and security are challenged. Although to a lesser extent compared with Somalia, there are also significant piracy problems in Nigeria and off the coast of Indonesia.

I want to say a few words about the need for new initiatives to achieve a better maritime security picture worldwide, which includes ways of trying to improve the situation in Somalia. First, I am sure that there is a need to address the current gaps in the type of information that is collected on maritime flows. Currently, only commercial ships over 300 tonnes are required to use the automatic identification system transponders. These are gadgets that broadcast the basic information of a ship's destination and cargo. If smaller ships, which are widely agreed to be most likely to be used to support illicit activities at sea, were required also to use these AIS transponders, that would significantly help to develop a comprehensive picture of maritime traffic.

Secondly, there is a need for better information sharing. There is a good deal of agreement that information is not shared as well as it could be and that there are far too many obstacles and difficulties in the sharing of information. There are political difficulties, largely because of the reluctance of some states, which we quite understand, to share information with certain participants in these sorts of difficulties-one does not need to mention names. There are legal difficulties with, for instance, data protection rules and restrictions over sharing information that arises from commercial sources or from criminal investigations. Here, again, we have problems with rules of engagement, which brings us back to the possibility of prosecutions.

Thirdly, there are technical difficulties that make it hard to share crucial information, such as the use of non-compatible or non-interoperable systems. Again, there has been reference to the lack of UAVs. I have been told in the past that there was a possibility of UAVs operating out of the Seychelles, on the return journey from the Gulf or wherever they have been, to be used in their journey back across the ocean.

We need new efforts to minimise these difficulties at both regional and international level and to increase information sharing on maritime flows and activities. With regard to Somalia, some good initiatives have already taken place. The European Union's maritime security centre on the Horn of Africa and its Mercury web-based information tool, as well as the shared awareness and deconfliction mechanism, have already been extremely useful in improving the sharing of information, in breaking down some of the barriers and in fostering exchanges between the military and the shipping industry. My impression and my information are that the inclusion of the shipping industry in recent times has been very productive indeed.

Above all, we need to bring up to date the co-ordination of efforts to improve maritime security overall on a global basis. This does not, of course, mean that we need a new overarching structure-I believe that it can be done within existing structures-but we need different systems and assets to operate better together, whether at national, regional or international level, and a number of political, legal and technical changes need to be made. I hope that the Minister when he replies will accept that these necessary changes and improvements need to happen and that he will be able to tell us that a start on that will be made shortly.

Finally, I very much agree with what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, said about this being a long haul. The international community must not sign off as a result of mission exhaustion. That would be absolutely fatal. This is a long haul and we must stick with it.

Photo of Lord Williams of Elvel Lord Williams of Elvel Labour 4:56, 10 November 2010

My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, not least because I usually agree with what he says, perhaps because his wife and my wife are members of the same book group. Leaving aside that rather frivolous comment, he has made very good points. This is a very opportune debate, not least because of the renewal of the Atalanta mandate. I want to concentrate on a particular aspect which other noble Lords have raised. First, I remind your Lordships what the summary of the report says. It states:

"There will be no solution to the problem of piracy without a solution to the root causes of the conflict on land in Somalia".

It is worth having a look at where we are at the moment, with a record ransom of $12.3 million for two ships and estimates of a total sum of $100 million. Although Atalanta and other operations in theatre can claim successes, the International Maritime Bureau reported that ship hijackings in the world reached an all-time high in the first nine months of 2010. Although we recognise that Atalanta and some of the other operations have been reasonably successful, there can be no room for complacency, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, pointed out. I will come back to something that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said at the end of my speech, but it is worth looking at why we are in this situation and at the history of Somalia.

Somalia is the size of the state of Texas and has a coastline of some 1,600 miles. It is in the Horn of Africa, which, since the opening of the Suez Canal, has been a strategic point between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, and hence from Europe to Asia. Its population is poor, ill educated, belongs to clans and has benefited-if I may put it like that-from the fact that in the Cold War Somalia was part of the Soviet system. Ethiopia, its neighbour, was part of the American system-that changed in the 1970s-so that whenever anyone in Somalia wanted arms they called either Washington or Moscow.

The remains of a Russian-or actually Soviet-base can still be found in Somalia. I shall never forget the after-effects of the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War, Somalia deteriorated into civil war. There was no particular government, there was no particular regime, and the colonial powers had departed. In the end, a federal state and a transitional federal Government were established, which were meant to keep control of Somalia as a country. That has not really worked because Puntland in the north, which is the centre of piracy, has more or less disassociated itself from Mogadishu in the south, which is the federal capital. The south of Somalia is controlled, by all reports-and I would welcome the Minister's comments on this-by al-Shabaab, a very sinister organisation to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred and which has now admitted, in February of this year, that it is associated with al-Qaeda. That, as I will make clear at the end, is why this is such a serious problem and not just a maritime problem.

Who are the pirates? They are associated mainly with the old fishing industry of Somalia, which was pretty well destroyed by international, big, heavy fishing operators who cut the nets of the local fishermen, blew up the coral and blew up the fish. The only thing a Somali fisherman could do was to capture the ships, which was a very simple operation because there were plenty of arms flying around after the Cold War. Everyone had AK47s or whatever, and there was a big arms-smuggling trade coming from the Yemen. All they could do was say, "People are more valuable than fish", so they captured the people. This is what happened and what continues to happen.

The pirates form gangs. They call themselves companies, with names such as Somali Marines, Central Somali Coast Guard and Ocean Salvation Corps. These gangs have spokesmen; their leaders call themselves Big Mouth, Silver Tooth, Red Tooth and so on. They are heroes, they are rich. They come into Eyl-the centre of piracy in northern Somalia-and they scatter money around. There are piracy weddings, like the Mafia weddings in Sicily. We have not yet learnt to grapple with this, but we must. There is even a stock exchange that trades shares in pirate companies. Where do these revenues-$100 million-all go? Part of it goes of course to buying arms; there is, as I said, a big arms-smuggling trade across the Gulf of Aden from the Yemen. However, part of it, more sinisterly-5 per cent according to reports-goes to al-Shabaab and finances terrorism. This is where the Government, the EU and the United Nations have to make a serious response, not just to the maritime problem that other noble Lords, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the report have described, but to the consequences of not doing anything. This is, as I said, finance for terrorism.

I quite understand why historically the Somalis have engaged in this form of piracy-or kidnapping as I call it, because they do not involve themselves in the cargoes of the ships, they just want the people. That is why people pay ransom. I quite understand that, but it is a serious problem that has so far been underestimated. If it were just a question of ship owners or insurers paying out large ransoms, we could be relatively relaxed about it. We could say it was a nuisance and a bore, but it is much worse than that. Somali piracy is financing terrorism.

As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, quite rightly said, there is no quick fix. One thing is absolutely certain, however-I join the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in stating this categorically-there will be no solution unless and until there is effective governance in Somalia, respect for the rule of law, reliable security agencies and alternative employment opportunities for the Somali people. I very much hope that in his response the Minister can show us the path he thinks we should go down to achieve that objective.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat 5:05, 10 November 2010

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, has quoted the Select Committee which makes it clear that without addressing the root causes of the problem in Somalia, we shall not deal with piracy. A precondition for dealing with the root causes must be a functioning and stable central Government.

I congratulate and send best wishes to the new Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, whose appointment by the president was confirmed by the parliament on November 1. He is a member of the Marehan subclan of the Darod clan, which has produced many notable Somalis. He is reported to be experienced in conflict resolution and has offered to begin peace talks with the rebels, in whose leadership the Marehan are well represented, but he has warned the rebels that if they reject this offer, he will drive them out. Judging from the threat last week by one al-Shabaab commander Fuad Shongole that Kampala and Bujumbura will suffer fresh attacks if they do not withdraw their troops from Somalia-the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Somali bomb attack in Kampala that cost 70 lives-the dominant view in al-Shabaab must be against any form of compromise. However, in the past few weeks, AMISOM has been gaining ground in Mogadishu and now claims to control half the city. The international community must give Prime Minister Farmajo and AMISOM its full support so that if talks begin, either with al-Shabaab or with individual commanders who peel off, the Prime Minister negotiates from a position of strength. If negotiations prove to be impossible, it will be even more important that the TFG is strengthened and stabilised.

I warmly congratulate the Select Committee of my noble friend Lord Teverson on what must be seen as a practical contribution towards solving this other huge problem that is weighing down the in-tray of the new Prime Minister-that of piracy based on Somali territory. There may or may not be a link, as has been suggested, between the pirates and al-Shabaab, and perhaps my noble friend can tell us whether there is any international investigation of what happens to the large sums paid by ship owners, such as the $12.3 million paid this week to release two vessels and their crews. In spite of the increasing effectiveness of the EU's naval operation, which has escorted 73 WFP-chartered vessels safely into Mogadishu and has successfully disrupted more than 60 attacks on other vessels, the overall record for the first nine months of 2010 is slightly worse than for the equivalent period in 2009, in terms of the number of ships hijacked. It has also been mentioned that the pirates are adopting new tactics, such as the posting of hostages on their attack vessels, which was reported yesterday when pirates tried for the first time to hijack an EU-escorted AMISOM supply ship. The Spanish escort ship was unable to open fire on the pirates for fear of killing the hostages, and the rules of engagement need to be considered if they do not include an effective response to this tactic.

The Select Committee and the UN Secretary-General in his report of 27 October to the Security Council also agree that much more needs to be done and that the root causes of conflict and instability in Somalia need to be addressed if piracy is to be eliminated. It will be very interesting to hear from the Minister what specific ideas we have for ramping up the pressure on the pirates and for liberating the hostages without having to pay out millions of dollars in ransom, as we are doing now.

Meanwhile, the Select Committee makes several proposals which are not in the Secretary-General's report. Do the Government normally draw the Secretary-General's attention to the recommendations of our Select Committees that touch on matters that are before the Security Council? In his report, the Secretary-General appeals to,

"all ships traversing the high seas off the coast of Somalia to follow IMO recommendations and industry-developed best management practices, which have proved to significantly reduce the risk of being hijacked."

The Select Committee goes further, urging,

"that the terms and conditions of insurance effectively reflect the need to discourage shipping companies from failing to follow recognised best practice."

Should it not be provided that the insurance industry grants cover to ship owners only on condition that they adhere to best practice? It would be useful to know whether the UN has discussed this with the IMO and, if so, what its reaction was.

The second major difference between the two reports is the absence of any mention by the Secretary-General of the capability shortfalls discussed by the Select Committee and referred to by several of your Lordships this afternoon. There is a shortage of tankers that are needed to increase the proportion of time spent at sea by operational vessels; there is a shortage of seaborne medical capacity; and there is a shortage of maritime patrol aircraft to carry out the essential task of surveillance. Ideally, as the Select Committee says, we would be deploying UAVs, as several of your Lordships have said, but EU air forces do not have any, as far as I am aware, and it is going to be several years before the UK and France jointly develop reconnaissance and attack systems-a matter which has been discussed in the papers recently, under the heading of a possible agreement between Dassault and BAE to develop these vehicles.

It was announced a year ago by the Americans that they were operating unarmed Reaper MQ-9 UAVs experimentally in an anti-piracy reconnaissance role from the Seychelles under an agreement with the Government of the Seychelles. Could the Minister say whether this operation continues; whether the intelligence that it provides is shared with NAVFOR; and whether there are any plans to extend the agreement to allow ultimately for the use of armed UAVs, as in Afghanistan? And, if so, what protection would there be for the hostages? That is not an ingredient in the problem in Afghanistan, but it certainly would be if UAVs were to deploy armed attacks on pirate vessels.

There is no mention of the use of geostationary satellites for surveillance, although there are plenty of references to the technology on the web. It should be feasible to identify the large mother boats, referred to by my noble friend Lord Teverson as being introduced now by the pirates, towing several attack skiffs, allowing them to carry out attacks far off the coast of Somalia-they say up to 1,300 nautical miles-and against ever larger freighters. Have the EU, NATO or the US-led combined maritime forces considered satellite observation to pick up suspected pirate operations? What conclusions have they reached?

There are also pirates, as have been mentioned, off the coast of West Africa, where there are easy targets on oil rigs, as we saw only yesterday when five crew members were kidnapped from a rig operated by a British company, Afren. It would be wise to look ahead even if for any reason the technology cannot be employed today.

The Select Committee says that in-theatre co-ordination is working well between the three multilateral operations and the eight individual states that have what the Secretary-General describes as,

"varying degrees of coordination with the coalition forces".

He concludes that,

"there is a need to expand and formalize the mechanism whereby information obtained by military assets at sea is effectively collected and made readily available to various law-enforcement and judicial bodies".

The IMO and Interpol are developing guidance on the collection of evidence following acts of piracy. In the mean time, there must be a temporary solution. Perhaps the IMO would be an appropriate custodian of the evidence until an authority is established for that purpose.

Finally, I ask my noble friend whether a bolder policy than the one we are adopting should not be considered. If the AU were to increase the strength of AMISOM to the point where not only could it clear the pirates out of Mogadishu, as it bids well to do at the moment, but could reoccupy the coast as far as the border with Puntland on behalf of the TFG, the pirates' bases along that stretch would be eliminated and the new Government of Prime Minister Farmajo would receive a tremendous boost. Uganda has argued at the UN that AMISOM should have 20,000 troops on the ground and that the Security Council should provide sustained and predictable financial and logistical support for it, instead of the present system of voluntary contributions. It says that piracy would be effectively dealt with by addressing the situation in Somalia itself. This may be a unique moment for putting both the pirates and al-Shabaab on the back foot.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 5:16, 10 November 2010

My Lords, this report is another landmark for the European Union committee, just as Operation Atalanta is a flagship of the EU's post-Lisbon foreign policy. Like my noble friend Lord Alton, I will focus not on shipping but more on international development. I congratulate the Royal Navy on leading the European Union's first ever naval CSDP operation involving more than 10 member states. I declare an interest as the uncle of a young RN lieutenant who has seen his share of anti-piracy operations in the Caribbean. I am also a junior member of the EU committee.

The report makes it clear that Atalanta is rated as a limited success in terms of naval performance and protection, international co-operation and the thwarting of attacks on shipping. The operation's objectives could hardly be extended onshore. It would be unfair to conclude that the EU on its own has failed to control piracy or to contain the appalling poverty and insurgency in Somalia, and the failure of the Government that allow it to continue. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, piracy is getting more dangerous, and the European Union force AMISOM, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, can hardly be expected to solve these problems unaided. Remembering the US experience in Somalia and in the Middle East, I see no case for scaling up outside military intervention. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, said in his evidence that a large UN peacekeeping force would not just interfere with but could actually disrupt the internal peacemaking process. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister agrees with that, and whether the UK supports a much more subtle EU intelligence role in that internal process. I doubt whether the international community could solve Somalia's internal problems even if it had the necessary will and resolution to do so. This is a depressing thought in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said so fluently.

Nevertheless, one or two areas of our foreign and development policy could be strengthened. The committee quite properly encourages the efforts of the FCO and DfID to bring stability and good governance to Somalia, and support to AMISOM. This is essential to the general population of Somalia, even if it will have little effect on the pirates.

There are some European NGOs in Somaliland working hard to bring stability, not just through humanitarian assistance but through skills training and job creation. I wonder whether western donors are too timid about investing in education, training and employment for young people in areas which are relatively secure. Will DfID be increasing its development budget in Somalia in line with the overall planned increase and can it do more to invest in these kinds of projects? They would surely prove effective alternatives to piracy and kidnapping in the long run.

Children as young as 15 are being used both as pirates and as fighters in the civil war and, according to the UN, some have ended up alongside adults in Bosasso Central Prison. The new Somali Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, has pledged to stop the recruitment of child soldiers and I am encouraged by what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. While the TFG troops and their allies remain underresourced and lacking in discipline, however, he will find this an impossible task.

I am not sure the committee paid enough attention to Kenya, given its coastline of 536 kilometres along the Indian Ocean. Kenya's vital judicial role in providing court facilities in Mombasa is recognised. Soon after this report was published in April, Kenya protested that it could not cope with any more pirates. Through a mixture of international pressure and financial inducement, however, it has been persuaded to continue. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reflect on the capacity of the Kenyan judicial system and its ability to cope, two years on from the memorandum signed by the noble Lord, Lord West. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, have already asked whether the Seychelles, Tanzania and Mauritius are pulling their weight. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has given an answer to some of those concerns.

Are we expecting too much from Kenya, given that it has been working out its own constitutional problems following post-election violence in 2007-08? The ICC prosecutor has been in Nairobi lately and I know that DfID is also investing in conflict resolution in Kenya with a view to the 2012 elections. Can it do more to implement the Waki recommendations of two years ago and finally end corruption in the police and judiciary? These are all relevant to the issue of piracy.

Has enough been done to help Kenya to expand the Mombasa law courts and prisons elsewhere, where 136 pirates are currently held pending trial? The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has made some suggestions about increased capacity in Somalia itself but this has its own dangers. I know that, following the visit of the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, the new court at Mombasa's Shimo la Tewa prison is being funded by several donors, including the EU and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. This is encouraging.

It is not only pirates and fishermen who cause trouble for Kenya but also Somalis attempting to escape from the fighting. We have heard the point made by my noble friend Lord Alton about refoulement. We should not underestimate the intense pressure on Kenya all along its border with Somalia. Faction fighting among Somalis, with a lot of money changing hands in Kenya, does not always translate into peaceful representation by articulate MPS of Somali origin in the Kenyan Parliament, as I learnt during a visit two years ago.

UNHCR, as we have also heard, says that there were 1.46 million IDPs-internally displaced persons-inside Somalia, mostly around Mogadishu. Recent fighting between al-Shabaab rebels and Somali troops near Mandera has displaced up to 30,000 people, 8,000 of whom are now missing. There are already more than 280,000 Somali refugees in one refugee camp in Dadaab, 90 kilometres from the Somali border inside Kenya. The militias are said to be infiltrating and recruiting in that camp. Again, we should be more aware that the conflict in Somalia continually threatens to destabilise a country which we generally see as a strong anchor of east African security and prosperity and as a cornerstone of the Commonwealth. I am grateful to the committee for giving me this opportunity to mention Kenya, as I did two years ago, as the Minister may remember.

Incidentally, I am among those who have long argued for a Lords foreign affairs committee and against the argument that the Commons already covers all these subjects. That is simply not true. For example, Somalia, Sudan and Kosovo are obvious examples of urgent foreign policy questions behind the headlines which are ignored by the House of Commons. The progress of FRONTEX is very important as well. Perhaps these matters could be addressed by an ad hoc committee-at least, to start with-in this House. Another reason that I welcome this report is that it fills one of these gaps. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has supported this view over a long period, although I shall not expect him to respond to that point today. None the less, I look forward to his reply.

Photo of Lord Selkirk of Douglas Lord Selkirk of Douglas Conservative 5:25, 10 November 2010

My Lords, in following the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I share his enthusiasm for Operation Atalanta and also many of his concerns. It was reported only last Sunday that the president of the British Chamber of Shipping, Jan Kopernicki, had warned the Prime Minister of the potential threat to our energy resources from the criminal activities of pirates in the Indian Ocean and in shipping lanes which take a quarter of the world's marine trade. He feared that the threat from piracy was becoming so great that seamen might refuse to serve in the Gulf of Aden, with a consequent disruption to fuel supplies and the raising of prices for the public in this country.

Be that as it may, his concern in general is echoed by the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, who has denounced the pirates as "a scourge" and has warned that they are setting up bigger fleets to prey on shipping. Last week, he said that some 389 hostages are being held in Somali territory, and our thoughts in this House are with Paul and Rachel Chandler from Tunbridge Wells, who have now been held for more than 12 months by the pirates. Only days ago, we heard the alarming news that the largest ransom so far-£7.7 million-had been paid to pirates for two ships which they had hi-jacked. The magnitude of such booty can only lure more young men to take up robbery on the high seas. All this calls for a policy of maximum deterrence.

So what has been our response to this growing threat? As part of the coalition's spending review, we are reducing the number of Royal Navy frigates and removing from our country the capability for maritime reconnaissance by standing down the Nimrod fleet. I note that the Secretary of State for Defence admitted recently, in a debate in the other House, that the decision over the aircraft was "extremely difficult" and that it meant taking a calculated risk on the capability that Nimrod provides.

We were in this situation before when we had no look-down radar over the Falklands, and during the Falklands war that was a contributory factor to the loss of HMS "Sheffield". In the case of Nimrod, nine of these aircraft, which are among the best of their kind in the world, are coming off the production line almost immediately. I make a very strong plea to the Minister today that these aircraft should not be destroyed. If the decision has been made that the Royal Air Force will not fly them, at the very least they should be sold to allies or friendly countries, bearing in mind that they are the culmination of a £2 billion-plus investment.

The seriousness of the situation that we face makes it very clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, that piracy today is a sordid business with none of the spurious glamour of the past. On a much lighter note, I recall that one of my own family, a former Lord Selkirk, was the object of an attempted kidnapping in 1778 by a man denounced as a pirate by the British authorities. However, Lord Selkirk was not at home in St Mary's Isle, Kirkcudbright, when John Paul Jones, captain of the USS "Ranger" with its 18 guns, came calling with his crew. So instead they purloined the family silver but first had to face the formidable Lady Selkirk, who demanded a receipt from them for all the items they were stealing. The Scots-born John Paul Jones went on to reinvent himself as a person of respectability and distinction, and later returned the silver before going on to become a hero of the American Revolution and being recognised as the father of the American navy.

The situation today is totally different. The criminals and hijackers we are confronted with in the waters of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden extorted some £67 million in ransom last year-a very sad situation. Was it not Rudyard Kipling who said:

"Once you have paid him the Dane-geld, you never get rid of the Dane"?

With this background in mind, we have made some strong recommendations for action in our report. Three of them are of the utmost importance to Operation Atalanta, led by Rear-Admiral Hudson, and deal with the subject of shortfalls in capability.

The first is one already mentioned and referred to in this debate: that additional airborne surveillance with maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters is essential in order to identify suspected piracy activities. Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones would assist, and it has been noted that support provided by Luxembourg from the Seychelles has made a difference. I am glad to see, in the Government's response, that they share our concerns in this regard, and are working bilaterally, and through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, to secure additional assets for counter-piracy operations-France having many of them. Addressing this shortfall should be a top priority for the countries of the European Union, which must make the best use of present resources. It is perhaps ironic that this recommendation is made when we know that we might have to be reliant on other countries for photo reconnaissance, but photo reconnaissance, none the less, will be essential.

Secondly, the Admiral confirmed, in evidence to the committee, that more tanker support is required for refuelling in mid-ocean, so as to make the best use of existing assets to provide continuous cover and protection for legitimate shipping. I was glad that the Government will continue to assess the operational mechanisms for providing fuel at sea to ensure that the task force can meet its obligations. I am also glad that the Minister will continue to encourage EU partners to provide tankers.

Thirdly, there was the recommendation that the EU should work out with its member states how best to increase the access to medical facilities needed for surgery and other purposes in order to avoid shortages. It is welcome that the Government are exploring possibilities with our partners to close this gap. I hope that they will give top priority to ensuring that all of these matters remain prominently on the EU's agenda for action.

We made two other extremely important recommendations. One was endorsed by the former Field-Marshall, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. It was that the World Food Programme should declare as a condition of contract that, when asked to do so, the flag state of the ship concerned would allow authorised military personnel on board to ensure that such vessels would not become prey to piracy. Incidentally, the report also makes the very relevant point that if the World Food Programme could bring forward plans for larger, more modern and faster ships, these would require fewer armed guards and patrolling ships. That would release naval and military resources to carry out piracy-prevention measures elsewhere.

A very important point raised in committee by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, was that the insurance industry should take on board more responsibility for promoting best practice so as to deter piracy. In other words, if ships adopt the necessary self-protection measures, and the terms and conditions of insurance have those requirements incorporated into their contract, then best practice is likely to be followed with a corresponding reduction in the opportunities for piracy.

We may no doubt be told that some of the pirates are merely poverty-stricken individuals trying to scrape a living. I need hardly remind the House that that has been the cri de coeur from armed robbers from time immemorial. The reality is that they constitute a grave and growing threat to life, freedom of passage and property. Our Government, along with other EU Governments, should give top priority to deterring them.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, in an important NATO report last year, stated that,

"pirates operate first and foremost as a 'business' and not as a political movement or a paramilitary force".

What we know for certain is that the relative success of Operation Atalanta has made pirates move their activities to more than 1,000 miles from the Somali coastline. Indeed, I know that they are now operating off the coast of Tanzania, which is a long way further south. This means that those dealing with them have to be only one step ahead of their activities all the time.

We completed the report very speedily, within a very short timescale before the election, and we did not have time to consider in depth the case advanced by Russia for establishing an international tribunal or court, but I believe that the Government would be well advised to leave this subject on the agenda. We also did not find out exactly where the proceeds of the £67 million of ransom to free vessels already referred to have gone, but we recommended that the Government continue to monitor the potential risk of funds reaching terrorists. This has been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Avebury. We have to keep in mind that this is an area which 25,000 ships frequent every year. If European nations do not commit themselves to a strong and united front against the seagoing predators with courage and conviction, we may find ourselves confronted by another golden era for piracy, with all the misery, disruption and loss to freedom which that would entail. We should aim to deter the pirates, not just to disrupt their activities.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will be bold and forthright in speaking up for the EU's naval operation-Atalanta.

Photo of Lord Sewel Lord Sewel Labour 5:36, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I think that we have heard enough during this debate to realise that, in relation to Somali pirates and Somalia generally, there are very few grounds for optimism. That is made even more worrying by the fact that we are dealing with a failed state-an almost ideal, typical failed state-in what is emerging as the most dangerous part of the world. That is a real and pressing problem. One difficulty is that so few people have heard about Operation Atalanta, which, with limited resources, is none the less making a significant contribution to tackling one of the key problems that we face. That must be recognised.

On a lighter note, when we were collecting evidence and preparing our report, I was tempted-fleetingly, and I resisted-to suggest that the report ought to be entitled, "Tough on piracy and tough on the causes of piracy". I am glad that I resisted, but there is a truth in that, because we need a pretty tough and robust military operation going hand in hand with a tough capacity-building and development strategy in parts of Somalia. The two must march together if we are to have any hope of confronting this problem successfully.

Other noble Lords can speak with much greater authority on the military aspects of the report. I underline what has been said about the need to have in place tanker refuelling facilities. There is a danger of a heck of a lot of time being wasted as our ships steam backwards and forwards to refuel when they could be doing the job for longer if they could be refuelled at sea by tankers. Others have mentioned airborne surveillance, which is clearly of great importance.

I want to say something about the World Food Programme. I am a great supporter of the World Food Programme and think that it is one of the best international organisations operating at the moment, but it is short-sighted of it almost to insist on chartering at the lowest price. I can understand the pressures on it to do that, as it wants to spend its money on food delivery and humanitarian aid. However, if it is chartering at that low price, while it is saving itself some direct costs, it does so at the disadvantage of transferring the indirect costs on to the Atalanta operation. I hope that the World Food Programme can respond to the requests that I know have been made. The Minister might be able to help in this. I read that it had agreed to modify its policy, but I am not sure that this has been implemented.

There is also the issue of the role of the insurance companies. I was enormously disappointed when we took evidence from the insurance companies. They adopted an indifference and a detachment and failed to see any sort of contribution that they could make in ensuring that best practice was observed by those trans-shipping in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf. However, if offshore activities are to be met with a greater degree of success, that essentially depends, as many noble Lords have indicated, on changing the reward to risk ratio. I understand and share the frustration of many noble Lords that the constraints of operating within the confines of international law seem to put our people in the position where the greatest sanction that they can give out is something slightly more than a slap on the wrist. Have the Government looked at this and made absolutely sure that, when our military personnel are in a position to be able to identify someone who is going about ready for piracy, they can administer something more robust than at the moment?

The other great weakness is the relative lack of successful prosecutions. I can well understand why some countries do not want to find themselves looking after hundreds of Somali pirates in their own prisons, but it would be useful to know from the Minister the latest figures on successful prosecutions-not just those who are being held-and which states are now fully signed up, because it seems that from time to time some states come in and then subsequently move out of co-operation in this area. Also, what efforts are being made to trace the money? We hear stories of the money being used to finance major retail investments throughout Africa and large houses in Africa and parts of Europe. There is also the central question of the relationship between the ransom money and the financing of terrorism. That must be a fundamental concern. I do not know whether the Minister is in a position to give us any information on that, but clearly it would be very helpful if he could.

If there is a solution, it must in large measure lie onshore rather than offshore. Here, we come to the security and development dimension of the response. That must be in the form of trying to create a secure environment within which development can take place. Given the nature of Somalia, I am the first to recognise that we should not underestimate the scale of the challenge. These things are easy to say, but I think that it is going to be exceedingly difficult to deliver. The only heartening information that I have picked up recently came when I was in Ethiopia, talking to a group of ambassadors from EU member states. They all agreed that even now there is a real possibility of investment in parts of Somaliland and possibly Puntland in order almost to establish areas of security within which development can take place and then gradually to build out from there. That is not much, but it is most likely our best bet. I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on the type of development strategy that he sees as being at all possible to implement in that part of the world, because it cannot depend on using the institutions of a state that basically does not exist.

My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel made the point that the livelihoods of fishermen in the area have been adversely affected by illegal fishing for tuna by both European and Asian fleets, as well as by the dumping of large quantities of toxic waste in the waters around Somalia. Have the Government any information on this? Has an assessment been made of whether a viable fisheries industry could be established again? If you have a development-based approach, that is going to be an important part of it.

Despite all the efforts of the Atalanta operation-along with others, I pay due credit to the work that has been done-in the longer term we cannot rest on Atalanta as the solution. The solution must come from a combination of capacity building and development, because otherwise we will be left with a limited military containment strategy that will most likely come under resource pressure and be subject to questions about whether it can be sustained indefinitely. I do not speak with any great sense of optimism about this issue, but it is one where we would underestimate its importance in terms of global security in the medium term at our peril.

Photo of Lord Greenway Lord Greenway Crossbench 5:48, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I asked to be put at the end of the speakers list because, due to a longstanding engagement later, I was not quite certain whether I would be able to stay until the end of the debate. If I do have to leave, I apologise to the House and to the Minister. For that reason, I will not direct any questions to the Minister.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee for their comprehensive job, and I broadly agree with everything they have said. The subject has been well covered by other speakers, so I would like to confine my remarks to looking at the problem from the shipping industry point of view. As has been said, piracy is nothing new. It has been around for centuries and it waxes and wanes. Going back 20 years, Brazil, west Africa and Indonesia were all causing problems. Pirates then operated on a random and opportunistic basis. They were basically after the cash that was held in the ships-and ships have to carry considerable amounts of cash around the world.

I will never forget when, 20 years ago, our parliamentary maritime group was addressed by a captain from a reputable British shipping company. He had joined a ship in Singapore and the ship had sailed. She was a big container ship, lightly loaded and therefore very high out of the water, and steaming at 19 knots, which is a reasonable speed. It was dark and, when she was about three or four hours out of port, the captain was sitting in his cabin and suddenly found himself confronted by four men in balaclavas armed with AK47s. They knew exactly what they wanted. They said, "Keys to the safe, please, captain", and he had no option but to take them to the safe and to give them the money. They then asked him to come with them; they went down on to the deck and told him to turn round. He thought the worst-that he would get a bullet in the back of the head-but nothing happened. After a couple of minutes he dared to look round, and they had vanished. One must not underestimate the skill of some of these pirates. I have climbed up pilot ladders on big ships in the dark-that is frightening enough-but to do it in those circumstances is a quite skilful operation.

As we have heard, today piracy is a very different game. It is well organised and run as a business with a business plan. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, people are even taking shares in it. We have heard about the huge amounts of money that are paid out in ransoms. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, asked why we could not stop the payment of these ransoms. I understand the United States has done exactly that by executive order, and the rest of the world will watch closely to see how that pans out.

There are, of course, other expenses for the shipping community-the additional costs of security measures and extra fuel costs as a result of deviations due to pirate activity. We should not forget that these additional costs filter down through the market to the high street.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that we are approaching the tipping point; a major incident could happen at any time involving serious loss of life. If it happened in the Gulf of Aden, it could well lead to a blocking of the most important sea route between Asia and Europe, either through crews not wishing to serve on ships in that area or ship owners being cautious and not wanting to risk their ships. If that happened, it would be similar to what happened when the Suez Canal was blocked and would lead to an 8 to 10 per cent increase in the cost of fuel.

Of course, the main concern of the shipping community is the risk to human life. I shall say a little more about that later. There is also a great humanitarian concern for the seafarers who have been taken hostage. Organisations concerned with their safety and well-being, such as the Mission to Seafarers, are particularly worried about this aspect. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said that one person had been killed on a yacht recently. I understand that a Yemeni hostage, the second officer of a ship, died of malnutrition the other day and that three of his colleagues are in a very serious condition. That is a different aspect. There are two sides to all this.

There is already an agreed system of best practice for ship owners, which appears to be working well but, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson said, it is by no means universal and we must try to educate the more wayward ship operators to take it on board.

Measures of self-defence are made more difficult today because ships are larger than they used to be and generally carry much smaller crews. This is largely due to the cost of crews and alternation. The industry is definitely against having armed personnel aboard ships because this would immediately up the ante. Do we really want fire fights in which some crew will inevitably lose their lives? It might be both cheaper and more effective to have more crew keeping watch, because, if you can see the pirates, you have a chance of doing something about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned the safe citadel approach, which, it has to be admitted, has worked quite well on two or three occasions recently. However, there is a drawback to it, because the pirates are forever resourceful. I heard that they may deploy plastic explosives to blast the crew out of wherever they are hiding. The strategy also depends on there being a secure means of communication with any warship that might happen to be in the area.

The shipping industry would certainly like to see a reduction in the frequency of piracy and a return to the more sporadic incidence of the past. However, it is realistic and is only too well aware, as has been said by a number of noble Lords, that the problem could easily spread to other parts of the world, largely by imitation.

I join others in commending the work of EU-NAVFOR and Operation Atalanta. I am delighted that their remit has been extended. I know that ships and resources are tight at the moment-we would all like to have more ships-and I fully agree with what has been said about the Nimrods. It is absolutely disgraceful not to spend that amount of money on a very capable aircraft that would be ideal for this sort of anti-piracy effort in the Indian Ocean.

If we build more warships-this point can be developed in the defence debate on Friday-they should be smaller and have a helicopter capability. A situation such as this calls for smaller ships and possibly amphibious ships, which are also going to be chopped.

I do, however, draw a crumb of comfort from the fact that, as both our and Europe's naval power declines, so it is growing in other areas of the world, notably in India and China. I was surprised to read only this morning that India may have five aircraft carriers in five or six years. The mantle of policing the seas and trying to combat piracy may move to those new navies in time.

Photo of Lord Brett Lord Brett Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 5:57, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I join others in expressing appreciation for the endeavours of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee. They have produced a valuable report with practical recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, was being a tad harsh in his description of the report. It was impacted by the date of the general election and it provides a valuable snapshot at least of the situation that then existed. The Government's response, with which I shall deal, looks at its recommendations and seeks to give us the answers.

Like others, I welcome what both the report and the Government say about Operation Atalanta's success as an EU commitment under British leadership. We welcome the extension of the mandate for Atalanta and the continuance of Northwood as its operational headquarters.

Although the report's recommendations are practical from a narrow perspective, it is inevitable that the debate goes much beyond that. I have on occasions in the past thought that Members opposite are better on diagnosis than on providing practical solutions. However, this debate has been particularly helpful. Its premise is one with which we all agree: that the problem underlying piracy in the Horn of Africa is the failed state of Somalia and how that country can be aided back to giving its people a life worth living, thereby making the prevalence of piracy in that part of the world, if not everywhere, a matter of history. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, give us an important history of the country and spoke of the misfortune that may have been visited by Europeans and others on its fishing industry.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge, was right to say that this was going to be a long haul-I think that we all agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, set out the broad solutions that are required, including better information sharing, better EU-NATO co-operation and better international law on piracy, which all points to international collaboration. Co-operation is the only way in which to deal with the problem.

Noble Lords raised myriad questions, some of which I support and some of which I was going to ask myself. I shall not, therefore, add to those myriad questions, but I do have a couple. First, the noble Lords, Lord Chidgey and Lord Selkirk, raised the point that I was going to raise about the fears of the Chamber of Shipping about oil in transit and the possibility that it could be put in great danger by piracy. That was linked to the question of decommissioning the frigates and, as the noble Lords, Lord Selkirk and Lord Greenway, said, the value that could be kept in aerial surveillance if we could find another solution other than simply scraping the Nimrod aircraft.

In some cases, the Government's response to recommendations is clear and in some cases it is ambiguous. Recommendation 5 refers to encouraging other nations to provide assets and personnel. Does the Minister have anything to add to show any practical fact or encouragement in that direction? Recommendation 10 refers to how there might be industry commitment and assistance; it refers to the Friends of World Food Programme label. I note that while some recommendations are supported in the Government's response, this recommendation gets a slightly different response, as it is simply noted for discussion. Within those discussions, are the Government supportive of the recommendation and, if not, why not?

Another point valuably made was on the role of the insurance industry, which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lord Sewel very trenchantly. My noble friend's contribution echoed my own view that in that part of the industry an awareness or concern is shown that is shared by almost everybody else. If the Government would like to encourage adherence to best practice, in what manner are they seeking to do that and what is the degree of encouragement they can get from other shipping nations that have industry insurance problems of a similar nature?

A whole series of questions arose on the international collaboration that we seek. I would content myself by asking whether the Government are clear that what can be done is being done in collaboration with all our potential international partners in this arena, including the United Nations and the European Union in its post-Lisbon, much extended and much more influential role. Then there is an area in which the Minister has a particular interest-the use of the Commonwealth. Bilateral discussions with countries are one thing, but a much more comprehensive response is required if we are to see a serious diminution in piracy today.

The report is a practical document with practical recommendations, and no doubt the Minister will have to respond on a much broader basis than that. But it is a very useful report and one that the Government should appreciate both in its contents and the recommendations that it makes. I hope that we see action arising from what appear to be discussions and encouragements in the Government's responses. One noble Lord asked a very simple earlier in the debate: what in practice is happening and what practical changes and improvements are being made? I echo that question.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy) 6:04, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I think that the Government have already indicated in their response that they welcome the committee's report on the counterpiracy operations by the EU off the coast of Somalia and its support for our efforts to tackle piracy. I would go further than that. Listening to this debate, I feel proud to be a Member of your Lordships' House. The report has promoted an enormous range of very valuable thoughts. I possibly disagree with my noble friend Lord Hamilton, who seemed to be having a bit of a bad day with this report. I recognise that no report is perfect and no report can produce a whole string of solutions-nor is my speech going to produce such a string of solutions to the colossal problems that we face, which go far deeper than the phenomenon of piracy itself.

The report contains extremely valuable insights and promotes a debate such as the one we that have had this afternoon, which in turn will hold the Government to account, as it is intended to, and sharpen and focus our policies as we grapple with this problem. I want to leave no doubt at all that we take the menace of Somali piracy extremely seriously and believe that it is vital to play a leading role in the international efforts to counter this threat. The situation is full of dangers and I hope that there is no suggestion of any complacency, despite the fact that there have been successes and solid advances, which I shall enumerate in my speech.

The efforts so far have been achieved not only militarily, through our command of the EU counterpiracy operations and our contribution to other naval operations in the area, but also by the strong political leadership that this country has provided within the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, whose co-ordinating efforts from Northwood and Bahrain have been referred to. The UK has substantial economic interests in protecting freedom of navigation on the seas in this area, as throughout the world. My noble friend Lord Selkirk and the noble Lord, Lord Brett, are quite right that this problem could directly affect the maritime flows of oil and other crucial commodities, which provide a network that in a sense is just as important as the cybernetwork that people are coming to realise is the other vital latticework and web holding together our entire global prosperity.

We must be realistic, as many noble Lords were this afternoon, including my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge and the noble Lord, Lord Sewel: there are no quick fixes and it will be a very long haul. I am very grateful for the broad support for Operation Atalanta that the noble Lord, Lord Brett, on behalf of the Opposition offered this evening. To use a phrase that I am afraid has slight political connotations, we are all in this one together. We must work resolutely together to maximise the contribution and do more.

It must be remembered that Operation Atalanta was set up with two tasks in mind. One was to protect World Food Programme vessels delivering food aid to displaced persons in Somalia, as well as protecting shipping assisting the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM. These escorts have helped the delivery of more than 500,000 metric tonnes of food to Somalia, feeding on average more than 1.35 million Somalis each day. Atalanta has also ensured a continuous flow of supplies to the African Union Mission for Somalia. I should say to my noble friend Lord Avebury, who raised this matter, that the plan is to enlarge AMISOM to 8,000 and then 12,000 personnel. We will then be able to contemplate a much more ambitious programme on land. So far none of the ships in that continuous flow of supplies has been hijacked while being supported by Operation Atalanta. We must not talk about winning, success and victory, but we can talk about a most satisfactory degree of containment of the situation and a genuine advance from an otherwise deteriorating pattern.

The second task of Atalanta is, of course, to deter and disrupt attacks on vulnerable shipping in the region. Working closely with the other international operations, the EU naval force has had significant success in deterring and disrupting pirate activity in the critical Gulf of Aden trade artery. I have been asked at several stages whether things are getting better or worse. Activities and disruption in the Gulf of Aden are down this year, but activities and disruption in the much larger area off Somalia in the Indian Ocean are somewhat up. Overall, the balance is slightly down in terms of numbers of incidents, although more people have, I am afraid, been involved.

The reference to EU-NAVFOR looking out for shipping that is vulnerable is deliberate. Most of the 20,000 merchant ships that go through the Gulf of Aden each year need little or no protection. Ships with high freeboard, travelling at reasonable speed, with lookouts deployed properly and with physical barriers erected against pirate boarding, should be safe from attack. The military operations have made it clear from the start that the first line of defence against pirates is adherence to common-sense self-defence measures. That should be obvious. It is a pity that it is not more obvious to some ship operators.

The big industry associations have been critical allies in getting this message across-and we have to get it across. It is thanks to their close work with EU-NAVFOR and with the other military operations that we have industry-agreed best management practice for all ships active in the region between Suez and India. I pay tribute to all the seafarers and companies that stick closely to these guidelines and therefore reduce the risk both to themselves and to the military. I also share the frustration of the military at the numbers-it may be as high as one in five, or 20 per cent-that still consider compliance with these measures as optional. It is staggering, frankly, that some ships go through this area without even bothering to post lookouts and that the first notice that the military get of a hijack is to hear the words, "There is a pirate on the bridge", by when, of course, it is very nearly too late. We are there to support the shipping industry, but we need its support, too.

My noble friend Lord Hamilton said that brisk retaliation by armed private security on ships, opening fire at approaching pirates, would be the answer. There are problems with that. The British Chamber of Shipping is cautious about that on the grounds of jurisdiction and the escalation of violence and so on. Of course, there is the question of vessel protection detachments, which I shall come to in a moment and to which I think my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge was referring, but there are difficulties that realistically and carefully one must face. If there are to be armed personnel on ships, put there by the military through these various methods, they have to be properly trained and advised, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge rightly said.

Operation Atalanta has delivered substantial success-I do use that word-in its efforts. Through its direct military efforts, but also through its innovative approach in co-ordinating closely with industry and Governments, it has substantially reduced the risk of successful hijack in the Gulf of Aden. It has pioneered the use of the internationally recognised transit corridor and its partnership with industry associations, about which several noble Lords asked, has pushed hard the need for compliance with that best management practice. EU-NAVFOR has also worked with Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority to pass on information on best management practice to all ships going through the canal. It is noteworthy that every recent successful hijack in the Gulf of Aden has been the result, not surprisingly, of non-compliance shipping.

Successfully combating this piracy infection in the wider Indian Ocean is a much more demanding task. There are 1.5 million square miles to cover-an area larger than the Mediterranean-and ensuring the same protection as in the Gulf of Aden would require hundreds of warships, which no country has today. However, the volume of trade is, of course, much lower and the practical and effective approach being taken by EU-NAVFOR in monitoring pirate action groups and disrupting their efforts has delivered positive results. To date, more than 60 pirate attacks have been successfully disrupted as a result of EU operations. The Government commend these proactive efforts most highly.

I have suggested that, to do much more, the operation needs more assets; indeed, several of your Lordships have reinforced that obvious point. The commanders have said that they have sufficient assets to achieve their mandate, narrowly drawn, but quite rightly they want to do more. The Government have supported actively, including through our leadership in the contact group, the need for specific additional assets. Top of this list has been aerial surveillance assets, about which several of your Lordships made comments, but the Government are also trying to help to provide more oil tankers, more helicopter-capable warships and a greater use of military vessel protection detachments, as I mentioned.

Let me deal with some of these issues more specifically, as noble Lords did in their speeches. On aerial surveillance, France, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg and Sweden are already providing maritime patrol aircraft coverage, but much more would certainly be welcome. The UK, it is true, is no longer able to provide support in this area, but we have been engaged in discussion with partners to provide more and to help in support with basing over this enormous area. I would like to single out the generous support of the Government of Japan, who in addition to sending warships have also deployed three maritime patrol aircraft, which make a vital contribution, supplying data to all the multinational operations. I was asked by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Avebury about UAVs. The UK has none of these. There are some in the coalition, but I cannot comment on details for security reasons.

The UK is providing oil tanker support, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, raised, and we are discussing with partners whether they can do more, maximising the time that warships can stay on station. The Government are grateful in particular for the provision by the Government of Saudi Arabia of a tanker. Helicopter-capable ships are also essential, as helicopters are usually the first means of response and deterrence. I cite as an example the deployment by the Netherlands of a landing ship rather than a frigate, which has made a substantial contribution.

I want to enlarge on what I said about vessel protection detachments. This means putting marine or other military personnel aboard a vulnerable vessel. They can help to ensure its security without the need for a frigate in close proximity, which, of course, can then free up the frigate for wider counterpiracy duties. There is a growing list of partners keen and willing to make their contribution in this way, in the most part partners who are unable to send warships. The use of VPDs both broadens the coalition and makes best use of the warships deployed-I think that that was the point that my noble and gallant friend Lord Inge rightly and perceptively made.

Several of your Lordships mentioned the insurance industry, which is obviously important as well. There has been constant dialogue, through the contact group, with the insurance industry and the Government welcome the announcement at the working group meeting on 21 October-only the other day-by representatives of the insurance industry that they will require higher premiums for vehicles that are not seen to be complying with best management practice. We look forward to hearing a lot more about the impact of this development in practice, but it clearly makes sense, as it begins to introduce into the whole insurance pattern incentives to get real and to organise properly and in compliance with best management practice, rather than floating through serenely in a cavalier manner. That must be an advance.

In its report, the committee highlighted the fact that the World Food Programme's use of small slow ships contravened the advice given to the shipping industry-a point that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and others raised. The programme has a dilemma: it wishes to maximise the food that it delivers, but the bigger, better and more modern the ships it has to charter, the more money goes on the ships rather than on the food. It is wrong, though, for military support to be unduly skewed to the protection of these deliveries if they can be done by other, better means. Negotiations are going on between the military operations, the United Nations and the World Food Programme to do better. I welcome the fact that these discussions include, once again, the greater use of vessel protection detachments. I am also pleased by discussions with other multinational and national operations to enable them to share the burden of these duties and therefore enable EU-NAVFOR to pursue its much wider mandate. Indeed, I welcome the fact that convoys have now been carried out by Russian ships, with NATO interests helping in this area, too, again reinforcing the impressive nature, almost unmatched in recent times, maybe even in wartime, of the co-ordination going on between the different navies and naval detachments of the world.

I turn to the legal issues that were raised by several noble Lords. I make it clear that the UK will always prosecute pirates wherever there is a chance of success and I know that that is also the intent of the EU-NAVFOR naval commanders. We are grateful for the support of industry in helping to provide the witnesses who are essential to prosecute these cases. On a point that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised, the UK and the EU are also providing technical and financial support to Kenya, the Seychelles, Somalia and soon, I hope, others, in order to support work in developing courts and prisons to accept more pirates. I suppose that in the longer term one would look to places that are relatively calm, such as Somaliland-in contrast to Somalia-for developments of that kind.

Mr Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has talked about some international facilities such as courts and prisons for dealing with pirates. Negotiations on an EU handover agreement with Mauritius, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, asked about, are now at an advanced stage and I expect renewed discussions to begin with Tanzania shortly. Of course there is a question over whether these countries have the capacity for these things-some concerns were expressed in Kenya-but nevertheless prosecutions have been carried out. I think that some are going on while I stand here. There are currently over 130 pirates in prison, of whom to date 54 have been successfully prosecuted and convicted, following the handover from counterpiracy operations. The eight pirates detained by HMS Cumberland in November 2008-that is a couple of years ago-are now serving 20 years in Kenyan prisons for piracy. That is a deterrent.

I turn to the other major theme of the debate, spoken about perceptively by many of your Lordships, which is embraced in the words "root causes". There is wide acceptance that piracy off Somalia will not be stopped until the problems of lawlessness and instability within Somalia are addressed, a point correctly made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friend Lord Avebury, the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. Foreign Office and DfID ministerial colleagues are working with African leaders and Foreign Ministers to ensure that a long-term solution for Somalia is found. That is, naturally, what one would say, but of course it embraces a huge challenge. It is important not just to stop piracy-that is not all that we are talking about-but to curb the much wider threats that emanate from Somalia towards British interests. Most notably, that includes terrorism-al-Qaeda-related, no doubt-but also includes the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs, and threatening the destabilisation of the wider region.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williams, said in a very interesting contribution, al-Shabaab may well be benefiting from that. Certainly, al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda appear to have links. Then again, such is the complexity of the Somali situation that al-Shabaab may actually be working against the pirates. There was one report that they have cleared out the port of Eyl-for the benefit of Hansard, that is spelt E Y L-which was a pirate nest and from which the pirates have now fled. It is a complicated situation, but what can definitely be said is that many of these evil developments, including terrorism, are flourishing in that unsettled area.

Finding solutions inside Somalia and in the region is therefore essential. The UK has played an important role in mapping a way forward through its leadership of the contact group working group on capability development. The contact group has agreed a needs assessment report, assembled by a UK-led team, making clear the key priorities for action. This is the outline of the plan for which many noble Lords today have rightly called. The Government also welcome the results of the Mauritius regional ministerial meeting on maritime security on 7 October, which agreed a strategy and action plan broadly consistent with the contact group assessment. Inside Somalia, it will be important to continue the work to support the development of good governance through the transitional federal Government.

I know that the time limit is being pointed to, but there have been so many fascinating points that it would be impertinent not to refer to some of them. I move into the final phase by saying that it is obviously important to support economic development in coastal regions and to support community and religious leaders in continuing to speak out against the pirates, saying that what they are doing not only is morally wrong, obviously, but is distorting and destroying the economies of many coastal areas and delaying the establishment of law and order. The regional action plan agreed recently includes a request to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to take forward work inside Somalia to address piracy at its roots. This is correct and welcome.

I shall talk briefly about tackling financial flows, where the money goes and so on. I am afraid that the money disappears into lavish living-a Mercedes, new weapons, drugs and all sorts of other things-but we are working closely with international partners, as well as supporting the work of Interpol, Europol, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Financial Action Task Force towards the tracing and recovery of the illicit gains of piracy. We are also working with regional partners to develop effective anti-money-laundering legislation and action to enhance our ability to prosecute the financiers of piracy.

The UK pays no ransom-that is absolutely against UK government policy-and we strongly counsel third parties against doing so. Obviously, though, if they are foreigners or non-British nationals, we do not have any direct influence.

The Government agree with the committee's report of the continuing high value of Operation Atalanta. The Foreign Secretary has agreed with his European counterparts that, subject to scrutiny requirements of both Houses, the operation should be extended for a further two years, with Northwood continuing to act as the operation HQ and the UK continuing to provide the commander. The Government hope that this can shortly be agreed. The task ahead is tough. This is a serious danger globally and to our national interest and we intend to pursue it with all possible vigour.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Sub-Committee C - Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy 6:29, 10 November 2010

My Lords, I will make very short concluding remarks as I am aware that in the following debate noble Lords have only two minutes each in which to speak and I do not want to reduce that even further.

I am sure that the committee very much welcomes the Minister's statement that the UK will always prosecute pirates. That is one of the core issues around this risk-reward ratio. I will refer only to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hamilton, which I welcomed very much. The risk-reward ratio is an important area. Many of us feel that we should not just stand by and pay ransoms for hostages held by pirates, but neither would I want to be a member of a ship's crew, or a relation of one, when that policy changed. That is the difficulty in making decisions in this area. I am sure that the committee will continue to look at this matter, track it and ask the Government and the European Union questions about it. All that remains to me to do is to thank the committee's staff: Kathryn Colvin, Oliver Fox and Bina Sudra.

Motion agreed.