Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cargo Vessel Reported Hijacked by Pirates as Ministers Told to Clarify First Armed Response

Parliamentary Committee Says Shipping Needs Unambiguous Defence Guidelines
Shipping News Feature

OMAN – SOMALIA - UK – INDIAN OCEAN – Whilst interested parties pore over the 72 page report from a UK Parliamentary Committee which calls for clear and unambiguous guidelines for shipmasters on the use of armed force against pirates we have reports coming in of another cargo vessel hijacked, this time close to the Omani coast off Salalah, close to the Yemeni border.

At this time there is no official confirmation as the vessel reportedly seized is believed to be a small ‘launch’ loaded with local cargo for Oman and smaller vessels tend to travel, quite literally, under the radar of security forces but sailors in the vicinity are being asked to report any small craft such as dhows which appear suspicious to the Salalah Port Authority via port control at salalahportcontrol@salalahport.com  or call 00968 (Oman) 23219052, GSM 96109771, 23280040 Wireless, with as many details as possible such as position, type, colour, name, any armed personnel onboard and any supporting information.

The Parliamentary report requires ministers to provide precise guidelines as to a ‘shoot to kill’ policy on British vessels travelling with armed guards. David Cameron gave his blessing to the presence of security personnel on UK ships but neglected to spell out details of how a vessels master should act if under threat. The all party committee’s view is that the threat to pirates who undertake these criminal acts was currently too low to outweigh the lucrative rewards.

The report makes special mention of the points we raised with Rear Admiral Ort, Chief of Staff at NATO HQ Northwood in an interview last September that is 90% of pirates captured by international security forces in the area are released without charge. It requests ministers to confirm that an armed guard aboard a British ship is entitled to open fire when attacked by an armed skiff even before they themselves come under fire.

Maritime unions have been quick to praise the report saying it calls for ‘clear and unambiguous guidelines for shipmasters on the use of armed force against pirates’. Nautilus International which gave extensive evidence to the committee’s inquiry and whose membership comprises many British maritime professionals welcomed the report with general secretary Mark Dickinson saying:

“Piracy continues to be a very real threat to the safety of shipping and the wellbeing of seafarers, and Nautilus welcomes this report’s acknowledgement of the appalling nature of the problem. We fully support the conclusion that there is a significant gap between the government’s rhetoric and its action – and in particular the way in which defence spending cuts have had a negative impact on the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s contribution to counter-piracy operations.

“As a nation highly dependent on maritime trade, the UK should be committing more, not fewer, naval assets to the high-risk areas. We are pleased the committee has noted our concerns about some of the implications of allowing armed guards on merchant ships – especially the absence of clear guidance to shipmasters on the legal use of force, liabilities arising from the use of weapons, and safeguards on the training and experience of private security teams. There is a very definite urgent need for detailed advice on these issues.

“We are also glad that the committee has accepted our concerns about the possibility of blocking ransom payments to pirates, and we hope that ministers accept the recommendation not to make it more difficult for companies to secure the safe release of their crew by criminalising the payment of ransoms.”

It is hard to believe that this last point is likely to succeed given the horrific nature of the treatment of hostages as illustrated in these two videos (Editors Note- Very Disturbing) (1) (2) which make it hard for companies to resist the pressures from customers and families of the crew to not pay ransoms, particularly in light of the fact that armed ships are liable to lead to an escalation of violence on the part of the hijackers.

What is more valid is the point the committee makes regarding the tracing of ransom payments after they are handed over, criticising the Government for failing to take immediate action on the flow of cash particularly because information might be obtainable from British companies involved.

The Tenth report from the Foreign Affairs Committee – Piracy of the Coast of Somalia can be seen in full HERE.