Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I hope that the House will agree that this is a relatively good time to focus our short debate on the progress that is being made on reducing piracy in the Indian Ocean and on helping to stabilise neighbouring states in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It would be valuable to hear from the Minister what our assessment is of the present position and the action that HMG are taking together with the international community. I welcome the fact that so many experienced Peers are participating in this debate, not least my former ministerial boss, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe.
There can be no doubt that British interests are at stake here. Something like 23,000 ships transit the Gulf of Aden each year, and nearly $1 trillion of trade to and from Europe alone travelled through the gulf last year. The total cost to British commercial interests is thought to be around $10 billion per annum. However, piracy arises from instability in Somalia, and wider regional instability is fuelled by illicit networks operating from Yemen shifting people, weapons and narcotics between Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
Moreover, the disastrous condition in recent years of both countries has provided a base for extremism, expressed through al-Shabaab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in Yemen. This in turn poses a threat to the international community, as well as to those countries. There is some evidence, for example, that a few British-born Muslims are radicalised by events in that region. We welcome the fact that there are well over 250,000 Somalis living in Britain and something like 70,000 Yemenis, thus giving us a direct link with the region.
There is a British and international interest in reducing piracy by helping to stabilise those two countries. The lessons from the Malacca Straits are that piracy can be more easily tackled if the littoral states are relatively stable. We are helped by an excellent updated report on Indian Ocean piracy by the House of Lords European Union Committee, published on 21 August. From this we learn of the substantial reduction of piracy in the past year. In June this year, eight pirated vessels and 215 hostages were held, compared to 23 vessels and 501 hostages in June 2011.
Could the Minister indicate what lessons can we learn from this? Is the reduction caused by the fact that many ships are now allowed armed guards and that pirate shore bases have been attacked? Is it also the case that drones have been used in the Indian Ocean against pirate ships? I hope that the Minister will also want to say something about the co-ordinated progress being made with neighbouring countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius and Kenya in terms of co-operation over the trials, sentencing and imprisonment of pirates and how the international community is countering the money-laundering of the proceeds from the ransoms.
In general, we should note the value of international military co-operation, with a strong EU/NATO contribution and the participation of ships from China, India and Russia, for example. It is good that the United Kingdom provides leadership of Operation Atalanta but regrettable that we do not provide a patrol ship more regularly.
I turn now to the Horn of Africa. I first explored parts of Somaliland by camel in 1959 and worked among nomadic Somalis in northern Kenya when I became the last British district officer there in 1961. The Somalis are friendly, proud and independent-minded people, dominated by clans and pretty suspicious of foreigners. They are fiercely individualistic and resist central control. Since the 1960s they have been through the Cold War under the tough dictator Siad Barre, and for the past 20 years the country has suffered from conflict and fragmentation, thus providing material for al-Shabaab to exploit. The future of Somalis must be in the hands of Somalis, but HMG are to be congratulated on taking a lead by convening an international conference on the Horn of Africa in London this year, with a second one in Istanbul this summer. How is this being followed up now?
We can at least now welcome the fact that the international African Union force, AMISOM, with the involvement of forces from Burundi, Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya, has driven al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu and Kismayo. Against that background, the disastrous transitional Government have come to an end, and it is most welcome that President Mohamoud, who is a committed Somalian academic and activist, has been elected as president. The elected constituent assembly is tasked to develop a constitution for Somalia.
However, experts will stress that it is vital to acknowledge that, while Somalia is generally made up of a single ethnic group, the clan system means that they tend to resist strong control from central government. This has led to fragmentation, and each region is different. For example, Somaliland is now relatively stable and has an elected parliament and president, with municipal elections to follow shortly. The harsh experience of the past 40 years means that the northern Somalilanders do not want complete reintegration with the rest of Somalia. It must therefore be up to the Somaliland leaders to negotiate their future relationship with Somalia as their new constitution is being prepared. Many want independence and others some kind of confederal arrangement. The ultimate political settlement has to suit the Somali character.
Knowing the history of Somalia, I think it would be risky to be too optimistic, but the international community must continue to capitalise on recent developments and do everything to encourage its new president to work in partnership with the clans, business and civic society. We for our part must provide our development assistance only where it will be used productively, not wasted through corruption, as happened with the recent transitional Government. Are we, for example, encouraging alternative livelihoods to piracy?
I turn briefly to Yemen, where there is a close link with the Horn as many Somalis have emigrated to that country, and some to Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it is worth highlighting the fact that the camel, sheep and cattle trade across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia is the biggest cross-border livestock trade in the world, with the potential for constructive wealth creation as opposed to piracy and conflict. The country is undergoing a fragile but significant two-year political transition process, following a popular “Arab Spring” uprising that dislodged the long-serving President Saleh from power. The international community is united in its support for the transition process but the challenges ahead are immense—namely, addressing the grievances of separatists in the south and “Houthi” rebels in the north, as well as tackling extremism. Poverty is acute, with 46% living on only $2 a day. A large number suffer from severe food shortages. Oil and water supplies are diminishing.
Chatham House should be congratulated on producing some excellent analyses and assessments of that strife-torn country. It warns of how the multimillion-dollar shadow business networks spanning the Gulf of Aden hinder counterterrorism and counterpiracy strategies. The national dialogue is due to begin in November under the stewardship of Yemen’s new caretaker president. President Hadi needs to embrace all Yemenis in these discussions, to examine ways in which power can be diffused and to encourage the development of local communities. He is right to give priority to security and the defeat of al-Qaeda, but he will not be likely to carry the people with him unless he encourages economic and social development at the same time. I am glad that the United Kingdom is co-chairing, with Saudi Arabia, the Friends of Yemen international group to encourage development pledges and economic investment. Yemeni civil society organisations, however, must be allowed to play an oversight role in all this.
I hope that the Minister will give her assessment of the situation in Yemen under President Hadi. Above all, while I strongly support Britain playing its part internationally, it is the people of those countries who must be given the framework and encouragement to build their own future. It is the African Union and the Gulf countries which must play a leading and prominent role in supporting them. For our part, we must also encourage some of the Somali and Yemeni diaspora in the United Kingdom to contribute not only their very substantial remittances but also their skills to the rebuilding of their countries of origin. I commend the excellent work of the Royal African Society in facilitating contact and dialogue with the diaspora.
There is a better alternative for the region than destructive piracy, civil conflict and terrorism. We must keep on encouraging it.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend, who has opened this debate with characteristic clarity. He certainly indentifies a situation that clearly calls for positive consideration in the context of UK foreign policy. We certainly have a substantial interest. We also have a significant capacity to try to help. We need to follow, if we can, the advice that I so often quote:
“Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world”,
as Archimedes said. That is where my noble friend has started in this debate.
There are several helpful footholds for Britain in intervening in this. First, there is our Commonwealth membership, which gives us solidarity with the other Commonwealth states which surround the Indian Ocean, the African eastern coast and, indeed, the Aden Gulf—all of which look for relief from Somalia’s problems. Secondly, we are going there putting forth propositions with the backing of the European Union. That is important. It is the first European Union naval mission. EU NAVFOR is its codename, and the additional name Atalanta almost gives it a NATO benediction as well. Certainly it is right for us to be trying to intervene and be as helpful as we are.
Other interventions are taking place in teaching the Somalis how to improve their coastal defence and train their own soldiers more effectively. They are all clearly directed towards trying to enhance the ocean’s security, which will be helpful to Somalis themselves as well as to the rest of the world. We are supported in our advocacy of this approach by two major states, the United States and Russia, with whom we of course rub shoulders in NATO.
The propositions that we are trying to uphold are correct and useful. When I last spoke a year ago about Somalia, I discussed the social problems and tensions which still arose in those countries, and it looked like being a real problem for us to be intervening with it. However, their constitutional structures have at least held; they have changed substantially, as my noble friend has pointed out. Corruption and conflict have remained, not diminished. All of that increases the case for us to be trying in this way, not only to evade the risk of piracy on that part of the world, but also to enhance and improve the structure, lives and well-being of the citizens of Somalia itself. For all those reasons, I commend the analysis presented by my noble friend.
My Lords, I wanted to say a few words in the debate tonight because I had the privilege of visiting Dubai and Bahrain in August this year as a member of the excellent Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. It was an intensive week. I spent time with our naval forces on HMS “Diamond” and HMS “Atherstone”, experiencing at first hand their working lives at sea, and gaining an understanding of their mission and purpose in the Gulf and off Somalia. We were also given comprehensive briefings at the base in Bahrain by the UK Maritime Component commander and Combined Maritime Forces—CMF—and by the UK Maritime Trade Operation in Dubai.
It is a small force, yet it does vital work supporting current HERRICK operations, as well as working with partners to prevent piracy, thwart terrorism, encourage regional co-operation and to promote a safe maritime environment, as well as countering malign Iranian influence. The Gulf is a crucial waterway for oil and gas supplies, and in the central sea lane linking Europe, the Far East and the US. Yet it will be obvious that the threats are legion. At first glance, it seems a near-impossible mission: to effectively police 2.5 million square miles of ocean, where pirates and terrorists and others with criminal intent can roam freely. My visit impressed on me the international context of the UK’s mission there, and the variety of collaborative partnerships which had been developed with other nations in order to build stability in the region.
It is clear that, through collaboration and sharing knowledge and expertise between the 26 nations that form the CMF, and working closely with the EU’s NAVFOR operation and NATO, a strategic and effective force has been established. It is also clear that the Royal Navy exercised and exercises an important leadership role with the shipping industry as well as with other nations. It is getting results: there has recently been a reduction in the number of pirated ships. This is clearly a mission where we need to sustain our commitment.
I thought that the EU Committee’s third report, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in introducing this debate, entitled Turning the Tide on Piracy, Building Somalia’s Future admirably summed up the issues at stake here, particularly its conclusion that,
“piracy would not be ended until the root causes of the problems in Somalia were successfully tackled”.
However, Somalia remains a fragile state and one which can only too easily be exploited, to our detriment and that of the region as a whole. It is clear that unless current efforts are sustained any gains made will be nugatory. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said earlier this year:
“Fighting piracy and its root causes is a priority of our action in the Horn of Africa”.
The noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Howe, have spelt out coherently the severity of the threats that we face. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell the House that the Government will continue to support this operation and do what is needed to make the UK’s action in the Gulf as effective as possible.
My Lords, the capture of Kismayo makes it harder for al-Shabaab to generate income and to replenish their weapons and ammunition. However, the military success needs to be followed by the establishment of an interim administration in Kismayo and the province of Jubaland as a whole that balances the interests of the local clans. Can my noble friend say what discussions are going on between regional stakeholders to this end, and whether they might be facilitated by a disinterested chairman from either IGAD or the AU? Although the Kenyan troops were welcomed, they do not want to be seen as an occupation force, and the sooner civilian government can be established with its own police force the better.
Piracy has dropped by half this year compared with last, but there are still 11 ships and 188 hostages held at the latest count. We shall not have solved the problem until the pirate bases, almost entirely in Puntland, are taken out. An operation by Sterling Corporate Services and the Puntland Maritime Police Force to forcibly close down the bases and arrest pirates was already achieving results when it was abruptly curtailed, leaving the police and SCS staff without pay or rations. The UN was hostile to the programme because the PMPF was an armed force not subject to control by the recognised government of Somalia. It was treated as being on a par with terrorists, and its sponsors had violated the terms of the arms embargo on Somalia. But since there are 800 half-trained and well armed police at their well equipped camp, would it not be sensible to legalise them as servants of the Somali Government, or as a component of AMISOM, and allow the UAE to resume their funding and training?
Progress is being made in the region on setting up networks of courts where pirates can be tried and prisons where resultant convicts can serve their custodial sentences. Kenya’s Court of Appeal has ruled that the state’s courts can try pirates arrested in international waters, and I welcome that. In June, Prime Minister David Cameron signed an agreement with the Prime Minister of Mauritius to establish a court there. Subsequently, however, a row erupted between the parties because it appeared to have been agreed that we would enter into talks with them on the future of the Chagos Islands and that turned out to be a misunderstanding. Could we at least say that once the imminent court rulings on the islands are out of the way, the UK will happily enter into discussions with Mauritius on the future of the islands in the hope that good relations between our two countries can be restored and so that setting up the piracy court can be accelerated?
My Lords, the incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean has rather slid off the front pages of the newspapers in recent months. That is partly due to the relative success of the measures taken by the international community to combat this modern form of an ancient scourge. However, it would be ridiculously complacent to believe that the problem has gone away or been mastered. There is all the more reason, therefore, to be grateful to my noble friend Lord Luce for initiating this debate and for swinging the spotlight back onto the many aspects of this problem which have yet to be effectively addressed.
I want to concentrate my own remarks on one aspect of the problem to which the EU home affairs sub-committee, which I chair, has devoted a good deal of attention, without as yet receiving any fully satisfactory response from the Government. That is the question of the laundering of the money paid out to the pirates in ransom. Some facts are not disputed. The pirates or their sponsors—their godfathers—have received and are still receiving massive quantities of cash in ransom for ships and their crews. Much of that money is assembled in this country, which is not in any way illegal. These moneys are therefore quite evidently criminal assets—the proceeds of crime—as soon as they are handed over. Yet those assembling these ransoms are not required to file with the Serious Organised Crime Agency a suspicious activity report, as they would have to do in any other circumstances in which money was being transferred to criminals or people suspected of being criminals.
My committee has stated on several occasions that it considers this omission—the omission of the requirement to file an SAR—as quite indefensible. Moreover, it surely does hamper any attempt to prevent these moneys subsequently being laundered. More recently, in a move that I warmly welcomed, and as part of the international community’s fight against piracy, it was decided to established a regional intelligence centre in the Seychelles to pursue, among other matters, the issue of money laundering. I asked in an earlier debate whether any relevant SAR material we might have would be made available to this new intelligence centre as it surely should be. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, who was at the time a Minister at the Home Office, said he would reply to that in writing, but I have still—some months later—not received any substantive reply on this point.
Therefore, I should be most grateful if the Minister would now respond to both these questions. What justification can there possibly be for not requiring the assemblers of ransoms to file an SAR? Are we making available relevant SAR material we may have to the intelligence centre in the Seychelles? Any serious campaign against piracy in the Indian Ocean must surely get to grips with the issue of money laundering.
I have one final point which was also made by speakers who preceded me. The challenge of piracy in the Indian Ocean cannot, of course, be met by naval action alone or even by naval action backed up by good intelligence. It must also involve the gradual re-establishment of stability and the rule of law in Somalia and the other countries of the region. I hope that the international community, of which we are a leading part in this region of the world, will not allow that task to fail through lack of resources and lack of political will, as it so lamentably did before in the 1990s.
My Lords, I should like to echo the gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this debate at this time. It has been heartening to hear about the reduction in the rates of piracy and also what needs to be done to establish the long-term solution to this awful modern scourge. However, I feel it incumbent on me to remind the House again of the human cost to the crews of those ships.
We are very well aware of that from that excellent organisation, the Mission to Seafarers, which works very hard to care for those who have been released from captivity. We can certainly be very glad that the number of people who are now being held captive has been reduced. Nevertheless, if the report by the Oceans Beyond Piracy group, The Human Cost of Piracy 2011, is anything to go by, one of the very disturbing aspects is that, while there might be fewer people being held hostage, the violence towards them is getting worse. There are very serious reports of people being horribly mistreated, such as being put in the freezers of the ships for 40 minutes or left out in the blazing sun without clothes, among other things. That is extremely disturbing, and not surprisingly leaves people horribly traumatised afterwards.
The Mission to Seafarers, a Christian maritime charity, is working with seafarers in this high-risk area and has chaplains at Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, Aqaba, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Chaplains are trained in post-trauma stress counselling to help seafarers adjust when they come back. Very often, Mombasa is the port where newly released ships arrive. The welfare facilities there, with that network of chaplaincies, are able to reconnect people with their homes and families and provide counselling and debriefing.
I should like to put some flesh on this. The vessel “Asphalt Venture” was taken two years ago on a journey from Mombasa to Durban. Fifteen crewmen were initially on board when negotiations began. Six months after being taken, the ship was released after ransom was paid, along with eight seafarers. The remaining seven were taken on land into Somalia and they are still in captivity. One of them is a 27 year-old Indian seafarer called Daniston Lytton. There has been little or no movement in freeing the remaining crew, who now have now been held hostage for over two years. His family is desperate to know what more can be done. The Mission to Seafarers in south India has been providing pastoral assistance and counselling some of the families associated with the ship. The chaplain has regularly written to the Indian Government and liaised with the ship owners and agents in the hope of finding a satisfactory conclusion to this case, but nothing has come of it. The national media in India are beginning to ask whether the Indian Government have forgotten about the nationals being held hostage and there is speculation that two of them might even have died since, though there has been no confirmation of that. That is the reality of what being a hostage taken by pirates is about.
Most of the seafarers come from major labour supply countries such as India, the Philippines and others. In the light of what the Mission to Seafarers is offering at the moment in terms of counselling and help to release seafarers and help to their families, I wonder whether the Minister would be willing to meet representatives of the mission to ensure that suitable support is available in the event that British hostages—I hope this never happens—are taken. There needs to be joined-up thinking about this. As we have already heard, so many of these seafarers come from Commonwealth countries, so can the Minister indicate what assistance Her Majesty’s Government might be able to offer to other nations, particularly those within the Commonwealth, which are working to secure the release of their nationals?
I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for introducing this human cost, which, of course, will be solved entirely if the measures outlined solve the international situation. An urgent human problem continues and anything that we can do from this Chamber to support those who treat and care for people in that situation, and who can do more for those who are still being held hostage, must be welcomed.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble kinsman Lord Luce on securing this powerfully important debate. As I perceive it, the root sources and drivers of piracy in the Indian Ocean exist on land, not only in Somalia but in other countries in the region, such as Yemen. Surely success in eradicating piracy in the Indian Ocean in the long term requires actions to boost the current extraordinarily poor quality of life and the paucity of livelihoods in Somalia and Yemen and more widely.
The action taken by Her Majesty’s Government to lead the international community on Somalia and to support most strongly the re-establishment of Somalia’s Government has been most welcome, as has been the opening of the FCO’s office in Hargeisa in Somaliland, which I see as a welcome possible step towards wider recognition as a nation.
DfID has recently published an operational plan for its work in Yemen, having not been able to do so before due to the continuing political and security crisis. I will focus my few remarks on our Government’s strategies in these two countries. The link between piracy and terrorism is now well established, particularly considering the recent history of arms flows uncovered between Yemen and Somalia, which is documented not only in UN reports but in the recent news of al-Shabaab weapons from Yemen being seized in Puntland.
The first and most obvious question to pose is: what is the Government’s strategy? How are our Government, working across the relevant departments, focusing on the region? Is there such a strategy? I am not aware of one, but I would welcome learning from the Minister how the Government are co-ordinating their activities in the Indian Ocean’s conflict formation, in what is undoubtedly a strategically critical geopolitical area.
Leading on from that, the House of Lords EU Select Committee’s report, Turning the Tide on Piracy—I am sure that we will hear more on this from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson—highlights that it is key that we invest in the development of coastal communities in order to offer not just an alternative income to people but a considerably greater quality of life than they have at present. Perhaps the Minister might outline the current funding that our Government are providing for such coastal communities in Somalia, as well as in Yemen, where the south and the area around the great city of Aden are currently of particular humanitarian and security concern.
Earlier this year I had the honour of acting as the chief international election observer in Yemen, which is the second time that I have had this opportunity. This time I spent several days on that duty in Aden. I saw the shockingly low standard of life of a thoroughly civilised people who had previously—prior to their very low standards now—enjoyed what they called a European standard of life. That creates the vacuum into which al-Qaeda will draw its suicidal victims and its fighters. President Hadi, when he recently withdrew the head of the Social Fund, remarked that it was working as an alternative Government. Are the UK Government, who are putting their funding in Yemen through the Social Fund, ready to reconsider their way of spending money in the light of the President’s decision?
Of course, the picture of people’s daily survival and the conflict in Yemen comes through very powerfully in the figures provided by organisations such as the United Nations. The possible life expectancy of people in Yemen, for example, not just in the coastal regions but throughout the country, is one of the lowest in the world. Life expectancy is 46 or 47 years. Yemen has the lowest figures for the whole region and beyond. It is at the bottom of the pit in terms of infant mortality, maternal mortality and child mortality. When one looks at the life available to people in Aden and Yemen generally, is it any wonder that they turn to piracy to try to survive?
I therefore seek some understanding of DfID’s new operational plan in Yemen. The bulk of our assistance is going to humanitarian needs but DfID is discontinuing its funding in the health and education sectors. It has already exited from maternal and neonatal health programmes. Is that really the right way to assist the people in the coastal city of Aden, for example? I would suggest that it is not a strategy for long-term future development of the people of Aden and the coastal towns around it. That is demonstrated by the fact that the women of the area are seeking training, involvement and political involvement in public-life sectors. I would like to see us supporting that.
Tonight’s debate makes it very clear that detailed plans, analyses and policies are not only desirable but essential if the amount of funding that we can provide from the United Kingdom, and our undoubted influence in the region, will tilt the balance and give the people locally a better future that will end their reliance on piracy.
My Lords, I, too, would like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this debate. I would also very much like to endorse what the right reverend Prelate has said about the human element. I have had the great pleasure of working closely with the Mission to Seafarers over the past 20 or so years. It is worrying to hear that the problem, as I elaborated on when we last debated this topic, was one of malnutrition. That has now moved on into violence, which is a distressing development. As we have heard, much progress has been made and the number of attacks has been greatly reduced. However, caution must remain our watchword and any hint of complacency could see the pattern escalate again very quickly, especially now that the monsoon period has come to an end.
It has been a very worthwhile effort from all sides but it is very resource intensive. UK interests have benefited in that no UK ship has been taken for some months, and we can put this success down to three things. First, there has been best management practice. That involves ships taking the correct defence against pirate attacks, such as weaving and the use of hoses and barbed wire—anything that acts as a deterrent to stop the pirates boarding. Secondly, there have been the efforts of EU NAVFOR with Operation Atalanta and the wider international coalition’s efforts. Thirdly, there has been the use of armed guards aboard ships, which has already been mentioned, although the shipping community accepted that with reluctance. In this regard, it is not keen to set a precedent that would continue. The fact that armed guards are aboard ships has worked so far, without any ship being attacked.
However, there is always the chance of something ending in a firefight in which a crew member is killed. I hope that we will not reach that position, but there is always that risk. At the moment, 1,170 pirates have been detained in 21 countries. Many of them are prosecuted in the regions to which they are taken. However, there remain an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people engaged in piracy activity, so there still are many more people around. The risks must be seen to outweigh the rewards and we must seek to prosecute the pirates wherever possible. However, the mere removal of arms and boarding gear, such as the ladders the pirates use, from the pirate skiffs is often a sufficient deterrent, as the pirates, when they return to their bases, are not made welcome at all because the ringleaders and the investors—this is a business—are not pleased to see them return empty-handed. There are estimated to be around 20 to 30 ringleaders, of which some nine or 10 are active at the moment. Some of them have diversified, with their ill-gotten gains, into the restaurant business, selling cars and other such things.
The EU NAVFOR attack on one of the shore bases and the destruction of some of the boats has already been mentioned. That is a great move forward; I wish it had been done earlier. It has had a great effect in demoralising the pirates. There has been something of a change of tactics recently. Only two ships have been taken recently and these were a dhow and a fishing vessel, but there is a belief that these are to be used as mother ships to take the smaller skiffs out to sea—they go 1,000 miles offshore, which is a very long way.
One thing that worries the UK shipping industry is moves that I believe are taking place towards at least discussing a possible ban on ransom payments. The ability to pay ransom is important as it allows hostages—as we have heard from the right reverend Prelate—to be retrieved and also maintains the confidence of seafarers. Intelligence and surveillance remain the key. I understand that the few maritime patrol aircraft involved have been very effective. For that reason, I cannot help regretting the fact that we destroyed those Nimrod aircraft, which would have been very effective in this instance. Convoys are being used in the very congested region where ships enter the Red Sea: Japanese, Italian and Chinese ships are involved in this, but convoys are, of necessity, a quasi-military operation and not all ships, seafarers or shipping companies are keen to use their ships in this way, since ships have to arrive at a certain time and so on.
Finally, I have kept clear of the political situation onshore, but it would be wonderful if Somalia could declare a 200-mile exclusive economic zone. We could then assist them to rebuild their fish plants and perhaps supply them with a number of trawlers in order to train the younger people and give them some jobs and hope. I hope that the new Administration in Somalia will begin to tackle this.
My Lords, first, I thank those noble Lords who have said kind words about the report of EU Sub-Committee C, which I am privileged to chair, Turning the Tide on Piracy. This is an important subject around which we feel there have been a number of success stories. It may be worth mentioning some of those. Apart from the reduction in the amount of piracy, it is often forgotten that Atalanta was primarily set up for two other reasons. One was to protect the World Food Programme in distributing very important emergency aid to Somalia and, in that instance, there have been no incidents at all of piracy being successful. The second is that it is an area in which Britain has been very successful in leading a European operation—Operation Atalanta is based out of Northwood and has been a very successful operation, headed by a British admiral, showing that Britain can be very successful within a European operation.
Thirdly, it is also an area in which international co-operation on the high seas has perhaps not been recognised enough. We have players here who do not often get involved in this type of operation—China, India and the Russian Federation, as well as NATO and the European Union. The fact is that these operations and these various nationalities have, after some initial caution, operated very successfully together—international co-operation not always reflected elsewhere, particularly, ironically, between the EU and NATO, where operational co-ordination has managed to work practically very well indeed.
There are a couple of other lessons that need to be learnt. One area that came to light when we undertook our inquiry around Somali piracy was what the Somalis themselves feel about these operations. I am not an expert in that area, but one thing that has to be taken into account is that one of the reasons that Atalanta was formed—part of its mission, long forgotten—was to protect fishing grounds from what are often European predator fleets taking out some of the economic ability of Somali coastal populations to make a living. That area has not been fulfilled by any of those international operations, as I understand it, and this is an area in which there has to be a balancing factor for the local population.
Another area which is a greater success now, but was not so when it started, is the inability not of the UK shipping industry but of much of the international shipping industry to take any notice at all of recommendations by Atalanta and other operations based in the Middle East to help merchant vessels avoid piracy. A lot of this was just ignored and most of the vessels that were taken captive and their crews held for ransom were those that ignored these rules. The sub-committee felt that the insurance industry in particular did not in any way help at that time to add greater caution and make sure that these guidelines were adhered to. I believe that that has got better, but I would be very interested to hear from my noble friend the Minister as to what further discussions there have been with insurers and merchant fleets to make sure that that discipline is much better than it was.
One thing we were very sure about was that without solving Somalia’s problems onshore, as soon as Atalanta and the other naval operations went away piracy would return to the levels that were there before. We welcome the EU initiative to have a much more holistic policy toward Somalia and the EUCAP Nestor operation, which is trying to build up the coastguard ability and the rule of law of those coastal areas, is important in that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for bringing forward this debate; there are some really good lessons to be learned, but at the moment, as soon as those operations disappear, piracy will return.
My Lords, I am delighted that we are able this evening to be able to debate such an important topic. I, too, thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Luce for his persistence in securing us the opportunity. We have already heard a number of wise and powerful contributions, which have made many of the points I might myself have made but will not now seek to repeat. I would, though, like to say a few words about the maritime security mission and about Operation Atalanta in particular. It has been a great success. It has been demonstrably successful in contributing to a reduction in pirating. Not all of that reduction can be attributed to naval activity alone, of course, but Operation Atalanta has, nevertheless, made a significant contribution. It has been successful in fostering maritime co-operation with nations that have little experience in working with partners and with little previous incentive to do so. The most significant example of this is China.
We must not make too much of China’s participation in anti-piracy operations. It remains, after all, a difficult and uncomfortable bedfellow on a great range of international issues. Nevertheless, the role that China has played is, to my mind, a healthy and positive development in the context of wider global security. A China that plays its part in multilateral efforts to foster peace and security must be a good thing. The longest journey starts with one step.
Operation Atalanta has also been successful in demonstrating that the EU can have an important role in certain kinds of military operations. I spent too long sitting in EU military committee meetings to be under any illusion about the organisation’s capacity for the harder, more complex kind of operations. Too often, discussions were dominated by political manoeuvring and demarcation disputes with NATO. Unlike NATO, the EU has no proper, effective military strategic organisation or process. Nevertheless, when it works in concert with NATO, when it makes use of shared resources rather than trying to duplicate structures, and when it focuses on operations that make use of its political strengths and avoid exposing its military weaknesses, then the EU can be a very valuable player on the global security stage. Operation Atalanta has clearly demonstrated that.
Having said all that, we must remember that, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said, Atalanta was set up with a very limited objective: to protect World Food Programme shipping. Anything else it might be able to do to counter piracy more widely was subject to it having the spare capacity, and there is not very much of that.
The area of sea space that has to be covered is immense, particularly when wide-area surveillance capability, such as that provided by maritime patrol aircraft, is so scarce. Of course, the pirates inevitably react to and counter tactics that are employed successfully against them. They have ranged ever further from shore, for example, through the use of mother ships. We should therefore expect further innovation from them. It would be dangerous to assume that any reduction in the number of successful pirate attacks will necessarily be permanent.
The military operation is an essential tool in addressing piracy but, as other noble Lords have observed, it will not provide a lasting solution. It is a truism that in the long run piracy is dealt with not at sea but on land. That is why the wider issues of Somali governance are crucial. The fact that Somalia as an entity does not really exist makes the problem even more challenging and reinforces the need for us to continue our efforts to understand and influence, for example, Puntland, which is home to so many pirates.
Finally, this is not a problem that will be resolved quickly. It has been with us for a number of years already. Operation Atalanta itself has been running for four years and we must expect that the need for the current multi-strand approach to security in the region will continue for some considerable time. That will require patience on our part and it will require persistence, but it will also require sustained investment in the kind of diplomatic and military effort which is often taken too much for granted but which does not happen by accident.
My Lords, I join the House in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I admire his long attention to the detail of this issue. I also thank other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, as well as the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, which has added a great deal to our knowledge.
In the United Kingdom there has always been an interest in Somalia, not least because so many Somali citizens live here, and I used to find that many in the interim Government held dual citizenship. Indeed, the interim President, President Yusuf, who did not hold dual citizenship none the less declaimed frequently to me that he was partially British as he had a British liver. He told me that he was the longest-surviving transplant patient with a British liver and he held this country in great esteem.
Greater action has always been needed to address state failure, failure in the rule of law, failure in civil institutions and fratricidal clan warfare—the failures on dry land, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, described them, which lie behind the piracy. The instability both internally and internationally, in the Yemen and through the Horn of Africa all make us focus on this issue. It is quite right to say that the African Union has a vital role to play. I believe that it needs and deserves greater support in what it does. It has always had painfully small resources and it has always addressed the reality that military action is not the sole response. There needs to be a much wider palette of opportunities for response.
At present, as I understand it from the One Earth Future foundation’s analysis—there are probably other analyses—the annual headline cost of piracy is in the order of $6.6 billion. Just 1% of that amount is spent on building Somali anti-piracy capacity and on prosecution. Ban Ki-Moon’s special adviser on Somali piracy reported last year that just one in 10 captured pirates are brought to the point of prosecution. Convicted prisoners are held in a variety of countries, as we have heard, and many of those countries are themselves under considerable pressures, as is the Seychelles. I share the concern of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, that many victims of piracy will feel that this is hardly an adequate response to some of the things that they come to suffer at the hands of the pirates.
I also know, and accept, that there have been advances, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, the problems are still there. The advances are significant and they cover what my noble friend Lady Warwick described as 2.5 million square miles—something like 4 million square kilometres—of ocean. One good year—and it has been a good year—is not a guarantee of good years in the future. There is still a huge amount to be done, although the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has been absolutely right to celebrate the successes that there have been.
My feeling this evening as we debate this is that in the previous Government we sustained a naval and supply presence. That has now been cut, notwithstanding the priorities expressed by the Prime Minister. Those are matters that should concern us if we take the issue as seriously as the Prime Minister urges us to do. Therefore, what aid have Her Majesty’s Government provided and will they provide to create sustainable economic opportunities in Somalia? What careful and pragmatic analysis has been made of trade opportunities that would assist? What arrangements have been made with Somaliland, Puntland and their neighbours in Kenya and Ethiopia to assist in dealing with many of the problems? My question includes Ethiopia because of the outstanding assistance that was consistently provided by the late Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, whenever he was asked to enlist his help, particularly with clan factions.
Should not the United Kingdom, as chair of Working Group 1 of the CGPCS, deploy its frigate more frequently, and preferably permanently? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and others described that help as being a very interesting EU naval role and one that could well be better co-ordinated with NATO assistance, and I am sure that that is true as well. What future role does the Minister see the Navy playing?
Can the Minister also tell us what pressure has been brought to bear for internationally agreed standards for accredited private security companies? Those standards have been promised for a long time. How close are we to agreement on them? When will the United Kingdom ratify the 2005 protocols concerning acts of terrorism at sea and the enforcement powers that are sought to deal with it? Before the Minister tells me, perhaps I may say that I readily accept that we did not do so in the latter part of the Government in which I served; I am merely eager to know what progress there is now.
What are the Government doing to assist the Seychelles on the imprisonment problems it plainly has and which are stretching its resources to breaking point? What progress is being made on the new maritime intelligence co-ordination centre in that nation—another issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, earlier?
Will we contribute to the Dutch-German joint investigation team which has been tasked with pursuing what they have described in their terminology as the “kingpins and financiers”, the “money launderers”? It is obviously not whatever the maritime and piracy equivalent is of the term “foot-soldiers”. Those are pursued, but not many are brought to trial. What about the people who organise them, finance them, and benefit from them?
Finally, what is our contribution to assist the new Somali president to build the authority of his Government, his courts and civil institutions? We have here a permanent presidency. It will succeed or fail on the basis of the tangible support that it receives, and the expertise that we are prepared to deploy.
I accept that not one of these issues is easy, but they are all essential to progress, both on land and on the water.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to participate in this debate and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for raising these important issues, and for managing to gather such great experience and expertise around the House to partake in this debate. The noble Lord, as with other Lords, brings a significant depth of knowledge of the region, and the debate has been richer for that. Other noble Lords have spoken from the perspective of their valuable experience, and I thank them for their contributions.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, summed it up at the end, in terms of what can be done in a region which has multifaceted challenges: how is what we are doing co-ordinated, and where are we in applying specific British expertise? Are we dealing with the underlying causes, and are we going after the small number of people who are the real kingpins at the top of this chain? I hope I can answer most of those questions, but if any remain unanswered I will write to noble Lords.
Piracy is not a new phenomenon. It is a type of criminality that has existed for hundreds of years. First and foremost there is the human cost that comes as a result of piracy, and that was vividly outlined by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
However, it also has an economic impact. British shipping generates £10.7 billion of our GDP. The impact that piracy off the coast of Somalia has had in recent times affects each of us in our everyday lives. Some 90% of global trade moves by sea: the food we eat, the gas and oil we use at home, in our cars and in industry, and the clothes that we wear all pass through there. The stretch of water between South Arabia and the Horn of Africa—the Gulf of Aden—is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Nearly $1 trillion worth of trade a year passes through the Gulf of Aden to and from European ports. This illustrates the seriousness of the threat both to the UK and other nations.
The existence of piracy stems from wider issues of instability in the Horn of Africa and South Arabia. Many of those were spoken about in the debate today. In February, at the London conference on Somalia, we reiterated the importance of supporting communities to tackle the underlying causes of piracy, such as poverty, instability, and a lack of opportunities. It is those that are contributing to the problem. This is precisely why the Government’s approach to countering piracy is robust and multifaceted. We are working closely with partners in the region and beyond.
My noble friend Lady Nicholson asked about government co-ordination of activity. The UK continues to take a leading role in international efforts, including through the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia—the CGPCS—which has been referred to a number times today, which has over 65 participating nations and more than 25 international organisations. We contribute to all three international naval counter-piracy forces: the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has also been referred to by other noble Lords; NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield; and the independent US-led Combined Maritime Forces, which include over 20 independent deployers including India, Russia, Pakistan and China. These nationalities, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said, have come together and not always been given credit for this unified work. Their combined efforts have contributed to reducing pirate attacks by over 65%. We also invest in building further capacity in Somalia and the region to police, prosecute, and detain those behind piracy.
We are the largest bilateral donor to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime’s counter-piracy programme, and we encourage our partners to match our support. Through UNODC, the UK is helping to build and renovate prisons in Somaliland and Puntland. We also work with regional states such as the Seychelles and Kenya in furthering their counter-piracy efforts and continue to support the regional prosecution of pirates.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, was right to say that we must deal with the root causes of piracy, and I am sure that the noble Baroness will welcome the fact that in Somalia we are implementing a £250 million development programme, focused on institution-building, jobs and opportunities, health, and humanitarian assistance. The hope is that it will prevent people being driven into piracy. In practice, this means supporting the creation of Somali-run ministries to allow the Somali people to manage their own affairs; the continued health and humanitarian assistance means we are keeping over a million people from starving. Through developing jobs and opportunities we are offering communities hope for themselves, their children and their future.
We continue to support the African Union Mission in Somalia—AMISOM—and the EU Training Mission for Somali national security forces. AMISOM, with the support of Somali forces, is doing an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Their efforts to increase security in Mogadishu and southern Somalia are essential to enable progress on other fronts. Also, just last month, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development announced support of £38.3 million over three years to improve the Government of Somalia’s core functions, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary announced a further £10 million to help the Government with their immediate needs following the end of the transition period.
We are providing crucial support to other regional partners too. In Yemen, we are working with our Gulf and international partners to support transition, including through co-chairing the Friends of Yemen. This co-ordinates international efforts to support Yemeni-led political reform.
We are the third largest humanitarian donor after the US and the EU. My noble friend Lady Nicholson asked about that financial assistance. DfID has committed £28 million of humanitarian aid to Yemen. In Kenya, we have provided more than £11 million to support the implementation of the new Kenyan constitution, as well as police reform and training and conflict prevention activities. In Oman, we are helping the Government to invest in the coastguard, with new UK-supplied patrol vessels to be delivered early next year.
A new initiative is the unique multinational, multiagency centre, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which is being established in the Seychelles to investigate the kingpins of piracy. Evidence suggests that there are about two dozen individuals behind the piracy business model—if we can call it that—and prosecuting them will have a huge impact on further reducing the levels of piracy. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also spoke about money laundering and suspicious activity reports. I can inform the House that officials tell me that the Home Office is planning to provide the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with an update. If that update does not arrive, I am sure the noble Lord will bring the matter to my attention and I shall ensure that he receives a full response.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred to piracy and terrorism. Thankfully, to date we do not have evidence that terrorists are using piracy as a means of raising funds or that pirates are engaged in their activities in order directly to support al-Shabaab. There is strong evidence to suggest that pirates continue to seek to distance themselves as much as possible from al-Shabaab activity or control. However, it is possible that some personal clan or other links may exist between individuals who are involved in pirate groups and individuals who may also be affiliated with extremist or insurgent groups in southern Somalia, including al-Shabaab. It is a matter on which the Government keep a keen interest.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, also asked specifically whether drones are being used against pirates in the Indian Ocean. I can confirm to the noble Lord that they are not. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of the Chagos Islands. I can confirm that there is no link between the issues of piracy and the Chagos Islands. The noble Lord also asked about the local facilitation of talks in Somalia. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, has been in negotiations with local clan leaders for some months now and the new Government of Somalia and IGAD are working towards a solution, following the fall of certain areas which were originally al-Shabaab strongholds.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, raised the issue of ransom payments. The noble Lord will be aware that the British Government do not facilitate or take part in concessions to hostage-takers, including the payment of ransoms. Although there is no UK law against a third party paying a ransom, we counsel against that, as we believe that that encourages future kidnappings. The noble Lord will also be aware of the piracy ransom task force, which brings together policy makers from 14 countries to gather evidence, develop an analysis and agree a set of preferred options. The final meeting for that task force is to be held in London tomorrow. As part of that process, industry has been consulted and we have taken on board its views and expertise throughout the lifetime of the task force. I cannot say what the outcome of that meeting tomorrow will be; there are no predetermined outcomes for the task force. We will not know the final outcome until after tomorrow’s meeting, but the task force will deliver a series of policy recommendations to policy makers. Any decision will need to be taken by the international community outside the context of the task force.
My noble friend Lord Teverson was right to say that successful attacks are overwhelmingly against ships that do not comply internationally with approved best management practice. Self-protection measures remain the most effective method for avoiding a pirate attack and the Government strongly encourage flag states and the shipping industry to adopt and to adhere to BMP standards. We are working with international partners, the insurance industry and ship owners, via the contact group on piracy, to examine ways to encourage BMP compliance by the strongest means possible. However, I can confirm to the noble Lord that 98% of UK shipping is BMP compliant.
The sharp reduction in pirate activity that we have witnessed in the past 12 months—from 46 successful attacks last year to just five so far this year—is testament to the enduring commitment of the international community to tackle piracy and its causes head-on. We recognise that the work of the international community has been effective because it has been collaborative, co-ordinated, and in close co-operation with regional partners. A unique and positive part of the London conference was the role played by the Somali diaspora, referred to by noble Lords today. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I hosted key engagement events with the Somali diaspora, which has an important role to play in supporting the stabilisation of Somalia, through offering networking opportunities, investment and technical and financial assistance.
The Government are clear in their resolve to support our partners in the Horn of Africa and South Arabia in their efforts to address causes of instability in the region. There should be no room for complacency. Countering piracy is important to us all. It affects our economy, the safety of our citizens and it creates a climate of instability in a region where stability is very much required. However, as recently as Monday, reports show that we are achieving success. The International Maritime Bureau report was very positive. We are achieving success in difficult circumstances and it is in our interests to stay the course.
House adjourned at 8.13 pm.