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Somalia: Pirates

Volume 705: debated on Wednesday 5 November 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What role they will play in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

My Lords, the Government’s stance on piracy off Somalia has recently been reviewed, resulting in a more proactive posture. Royal Navy units in the region will now actively seek out pirates and are issued with robust guidance to deal effectively with any pirates encountered. The Royal Navy is actively participating in counterpiracy operations with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 and Combined Task Force 150. We have also offered to command a planned EU mission from our operational headquarters.

My Lords, I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute.

In the past six months, there have been 28 attacks on vessels off Somalia. For too long, the pirates have been terrorising the shipping lanes, and it must have been enormously frustrating for our Navy and other western navies to have to stand back and not to be allowed to take action. This more robust approach is clearly to be welcomed. Does the Minister accept that peace will not come to the shipping lanes and the sea until governance, stability and law are restored in Somalia? Specifically, when pirates are caught, where will they be brought to trial?

My Lords, all Royal Navy vessels and those of other countries have a responsibility to tackle piracy under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We are taking a more proactive role along with other partner nations because of the severity of the problem and the concern that it is causing. The Transitional Federal Government in Somalia are very unstable, and the situation is very difficult. We and other allies are offering aid. There is a problem about what will happen to anybody who is apprehended because we do not want to see the Royal Navy having to bring back a lot of individuals to this country. Part of our purpose is deterrence, but we are also seeking a memorandum of understanding with coastal states in the area to see what possibility there is of landing anybody who is apprehended on those shores for local action.

My Lords, there is now an EU mission in the area as well as the US Fifth Fleet and the NATO Maritime Group. What are the Government doing to promote synergy and avoid friction between all these groups?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: we now have an EU operation, which is at the planning stage. We have offered to have the headquarters at Northwood, which is a step in the right direction. We intend to offer a frigate for some part of the mission, subject to other countries coming up with resources so that it is a truly comprehensive and appropriate mission. We are liaising with the other countries and missions involved. The standing NATO Maritime Group has representatives from Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany and the USA. The coalition group has people from Denmark, the USA and Pakistan. There is co-operation. The EU mission will not be able to be operational for a little time yet, and the NATO mission that is already in the area will be filling that gap until there can be a more proactive role on a European basis.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept my declaration of interest, as having made representations to the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, on this matter some weeks ago in favour of a more proactive response, which the Government have now taken, no doubt purely coincidentally?

Can the noble Baroness reinforce the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that Somalia is an example of a place that has come far too low down the list of international priorities for far too long? During all that time, it has been nothing but a growing source of instability and mayhem in the Horn of Africa. Is it not time for the Government, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to promote a little more proactively, like the good work that it is doing on piracy, a process that leads to stabilisation of that country?

My Lords, I doubt that anyone would disagree with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. We are all concerned about the situation in Somalia and the instability in the whole of that region. I know from words with my noble friend that we are very active in the Security Council in trying to get action on issues of this kind and Resolution 1838, which encourages states to be more proactive on piracy in this region, was generally welcomed.

My Lords, although I welcome the decision to allow the use of force against pirate vessels operating off the coast of Somalia, would it not have been sensible at the same time to extend that role to action against the land-based dens from which the pirates are operating along the coast of Somalia, which were identified in an article in the Los Angeles Times last week? Will the Government take action via the Security Council in consultation with the TFG and the World Food Programme to see that action is extended in that way?

My Lords, I do not think that we have any mandate for land-based action in that area. I know various African countries have looked at the situation and tried to help by way of peacekeeping forces, but it is a very complex issue. We are one player in this. We are trying to do our part in NATO, in the coalition task force and, now, with the new EU operation. So we are doing what we can, but we are under no illusion that we can solve this kind of problem by ourselves.