We are taking the situation off the coast of Somalia very seriously and have played an important role in developing the military response to pirate activity. We have key command roles within all of the international task forces and continue to develop our strategies in line with changing operational and political requirements. Piracy is a symptom of wider instability in Somalia and the MOD continues to work comprehensively with other Government Departments and the International community as part of a coherent strategy to address the root causes of piracy.
The UK is providing a sizeable contribution to the military effort in the region and has a leading role in countering pirate activity off the coast of Somalia:
MOD has been at the forefront of the European Union mission—Operation Atalanta—since it was introduced in December 2008, providing the Operation Commander, the Operation HQ at Northwood, and a frigate for the first period of the operation.
The Royal Navy has a long standing commitment of frigates and a tanker to the Combined Maritime Force conducting maritime security operations in the region.
The Royal Navy is a contributor to the Standing NATO Maritime Groups, which at present are rotationally undertaking NATO’s counter piracy mission—Operation Ocean Shield. The UK currently has command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2.
The Royal Navy manned UK Maritime Trade Organisation has been supporting Merchant Vessels transiting through the region since 2001.
The UK has a bilateral arrangement with the Kenyan and Seychellois Governments which allows the transfer of suspected pirates for prosecution. Kenya is currently prosecuting eight suspected pirates detained by a Royal Navy vessel. We are very grateful for their ongoing support.
Royal Navy vessels and coalition forces in the region seek to deter and disrupt pirate activity. Specifically, Royal Navy vessels can actively search for suspected pirate vessels. The Royal Navy can also take robust action to come to the aid of a victim vessel under attack by pirates in international waters. This can again range from deterring and disrupting the attack to the use of reasonable force to defend the victims. However, the safety of any hostages involved remains paramount.
If suspected pirates are encountered, a decision will be made by the UK Maritime Component Commander, based on legal advice, on whether or not they could be transferred to a regional state for prosecution. If there is insufficient evidence to be confident of a successful prosecution, they will be released. Any piracy equipment found, such as ladders and weapons will be seized and disposed of accordingly.
To date, eight suspected Somali pirates have been detained by the Royal Navy and transferred to Kenya for prosecution. A further 53 suspected pirates have been encountered during boarding operations. However, following detailed analysis of all physical evidence and witness statements, all suspects were released as it was assessed that there was insufficient evidence to be reasonably confident that a successful prosecution could be undertaken in either Kenya or (more recently) Seychelles. The subsequent destruction of any pirate equipment and weapons serves as a disruption measure and prevents their future use.