Skip to main content


Volume 522: debated on Tuesday 1 February 2011

10. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on trends in the incidence of piracy. (37149)

We are extremely concerned about international piracy—in particular, the growing incidence of piracy off the horn of Africa and in the Indian ocean. I have recently set up a cross-Whitehall working group, with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has responsibility for shipping, and with the Minister for the Armed Forces. We are determined to work with the maritime industry to help it to counter the increased violence towards hijacked crews through the use of safe rooms and other improved security measures. We are considering ways to combat the so-called mother ships, which carry the pirate skiffs deep into the ocean.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but will he update the House on his discussions with our European allies about taking co-ordinated action to tackle piracy off the Somali coast, particularly following recent reports that Somali legislators have blocked anti-piracy legislation and even described the pirates as heroes?

I have not heard about those comments being made by the Transitional Federal Government. If they have made those comments, we absolutely deplore them. We are working closely with our EU counterparts. In fact, we are providing the command facility for Atalanta, the EU counter-piracy force. Currently, about 30 warships are off the horn of Africa, and we are working ever closer and going more deeply into the ocean to combat the problem. But I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there must be proper co-ordination between countries, and that is why we have a cross-Whitehall working group to consider what we can do. The pirates now hold 29 vessels and 694 hostages. The problem is definitely getting worse, as the pirates have been able to expand their reach into the ocean, and that is why we need firmer, tougher and more co-ordinated action.

May I press the Minister more on EU co-operation? I understand that Denmark has taken quite a lead and has made some inroads into preventing piracy.

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is ever greater EU co-operation, and that more EU countries are now coming into the combined operations. It is incredibly important that the EU should work together, but we want other countries to assist. We also need regional capacity to detain, try and imprison the pirates, which is why we are having discussions with the Governments of the Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya and Tanzania.

I am glad that the Minister recognises that piracy is a growing threat to life, especially off the horn of Africa, and a big business worth more than £100 million a year, funding crime and, increasingly, terrorism. Does he accept that we are now close to a tipping point on that vital trade route? Will he work with international partners to boost the anti-piracy forces that he has mentioned, and will he consider revising their rules of engagement?

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for his questions. I would not say that we were at a tipping point, but the problem has got worse. The pirates now have greater capability, as they can deploy much further out into the ocean through their use of mother ships. The Royal Navy is keeping the rules of engagement under review at all times, and, as I have said, we have a ministerial working party that is looking at every single option for the future.