Skip to main content


Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what steps have been taken (a) by the UK and (b) with other countries to protect (i) marine trade routes and (ii) critical parts of marine trade routes to and from the UK from (A) piracy, (B) accidents and (C) other forms of disruption; what assessment has been made of the levels of such risks on each route; and if he will make a statement. (210132)

I have been asked to reply.

The UK Government take a proactive role in working with our international partners, such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and foreign governments and the shipping industry to develop international legislation and guidance for shipping transiting trade routes. At both Government and operational levels this includes collaborating with other navies and coastguards through a series of combined operations and strategic alliances to ensure that the vital sea lanes and choke points are safe to navigate. Also, the Government monitor and assess the risk of terrorism to sea lanes and, as appropriate, set the security level for UK and Red Ensign Group registered ships operating in these areas and advise industry accordingly.

The Government also issue guidance to industry in measures to counter piracy and armed robbery and safe distances of transit in piracy hotspots.

Recently, the UK co-sponsored the UNSC resolution addressing the problem of piracy off Somalia. Under the terms of resolution 1816 (2008), which was adopted unanimously, the Security Council decided that states co-operating with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG) would be allowed, for a period of six months, to enter the country's territorial waters and use “all necessary means” to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with relevant provisions of international law.

Furthermore, the Government are committed to ratifying into UK law the 2005 protocols to the convention for the suppression of unlawful acts against the safety of maritime navigation, by way of the proposed Transport Security Bill. Notably, this Bill will provide powers to board ships that are suspected of being involved in acts of piracy.

The UK plays an active role in the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee and Subcommittee on the Safety of Navigation to prevent accidents at sea. In this forum we seek consensus on ships' routeing measures to reduce the risk of groundings or collisions.

Where UK waters are concerned, moreover, the Government have a strategic approach to protecting the UK's seas and coasts which involves all of the following:

we have put in place a network of shore-based stations around the UK coastline to monitor vessel traffic, using automatic identification system technology;

we ensure that powerful tug boats (commonly referred to as “emergency towing vessels”) are available, so that they can assist ships which lose motive power;

we have established arrangements whereby a ship requiring assistance, and whose condition needs to be stabilised, can be brought to a place of refuge;

we have a highly effective structure for command and control of an incident, in which the Secretary of State's representative for maritime salvage and intervention (SOSREP) plays a major role;

we have a fully developed national contingency plan, consistent with the international convention on oil pollution preparedness, response and co-operation 1990 (the “OPRC Convention”); and

we participate actively in international assistance and co-operation arrangements of a bipartite, multipartite or regional nature, again consistent with the OPRC convention.