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Piracy and the Royal Navy. January 2012.

Published: 05 Jan 2012

Failure to prosecute pirates beggars belief, say MPs as it's revealed 90% of all suspects are freed without trialNine out of ten piracy suspects detained by Royal Navy and other maritime forces are released without trial by Ian Drury - Daily Mail 5 January 2012.

Britain's failure to prosecute Somali pirates who attack ships, seize hostages and demand huge ransoms ‘beggars belief’, a withering Parliamentary report said today.

Nine out of ten piracy suspects detained by the Royal Navy and other maritime forces in the Gulf of Aden or Indian Ocean are released without trial, according to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Not one pirate has been brought to the UK for prosecution, even though 20 other countries - including the U.S., France, Germany and Belgium - had placed nearly 1,000 suspects on trial.

Most of the time armed bandits who prey on merchant ships off the volatile Horn of Africa are returned to their boats and freed.

Ministers claim it is difficult to gather suitable evidence because pirates often threw weapons and other equipment into the sea when spotted by anti-piracy patrols.

But the committee said the Navy should use photographs or video recordings to build a case against armed pirates.

The report, published today said: ‘Gathering evidence to secure a successful prosecution for piracy is challenging.

‘However, not all claims made by the Government about the difficulty in securing evidence were wholly convincing: when pirates are observed in boats with guns, ladders and even hostages, it beggars belief that they cannot be prosecuted.

‘Simply returning suspected pirates to their boats or to land, while it may temporarily disrupt their activities, provides little long term deterrence and has demonstrably failed to prevent an annual increases in both the number of pirates going to sea and in the number of attacks.’

MPs on the cross-party committee launched their probe into piracy off the coast of Africa after a British couple were kidnapped by Somali pirates.

Paul and Rachel Chandler, originally from Kent but now living in Devon, were seized from their yacht Lynn Rival near the Seychelles in 2009 and held in Somalia for a year, and released only after a ransom of up to £620,000 was reportedly paid.

Seven of the pirates who allegedly held them hostage are currently being tried in Kenya for an attack on a French ship, and could then be extradited for trial in the UK.

But despite the Metropolitan Police possessing ‘ample’ evidence the British Government is still ‘negotiating jurisdiction’, the report says.

The failure to prosecute pirates drew stinging criticism from seafaring organisations.

The London-based Chamber of Shipping trade association told the committee: ‘The repeated images of pirates being released without trial by naval forces, including the Royal Navy, causes understandable derision.’

And the Baltic Exchange, another maritime association based in London, said: ‘The UK has gained a degree of notoriety within the international shipping community for its failure to prosecute those caught red-handed in the act of piracy.

‘Once captured, pirates caught by UK forces are widely perceived simply to receive sustenance and medical assistance before being returned to the mainland unmolested.’

The Government said the Royal Navy had transferred 28 pirates to other countries, including Kenya and the Seychelles, for prosecution since 2009.

It had released 60 suspects held during boarding operations between April 2010 and November 2011.

The 72-page report said the ‘plague’ of piracy was a ‘major concern’ that threatened the UK’s economy and security.

The number of Somali pirate attacks has soared from 55 in 2007 to 219 in 2010.

In that period some 3,500 seafarers have been held hostage, with 62 killed.

And between January and March last year (2011) there was an all-time high 97 attacks by pirates against merchant ships - more than 1 a day.

Experts estimate there are 3,000 pirates operating from war-torn Somalia who attack commercial vessels from small skiffs or larger ‘motherships’ using AK47 automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Last year ransom payments hit a record $135million (£86.5million) in 2011.

The global cost of piracy is as much as $12billion (£7.5billion).

Up to 200 vessels flying the red ensign - the British merchant navy flag - regularly sail close to Somalia.

In October, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Britain would lift the ban on armed guards being deployed on its merchant fleet.

Branding piracy a ‘stain on our world’, he said security guards would have permission to ‘shoot to kill’ pirates attacking vessels for their valuable cargos and crews.

The Foreign Affairs Committee welcomed the move but urged the Government to clarify when it is legal for British-flagged ships to shoot dead Somali pirates.

It also raised the possibility of military personnel being placed on commercial vessels to protect them from pirates.

Richard Ottaway, the committee’s Tory chairman, said: ‘The question anyone would ask is that if a private armed guard on board a UK-flagged vessel sees an armed skiff approaching at high speed, can the guard open fire?

'The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not.

‘It is unacceptable that 2.6 million square miles of the Indian Ocean has become a no-go area for small vessels, and a dangerous one for commercial shipping.

'There is a clear need to take decisive action.’

The committee also called on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to review its procedures for dealing with British captives’ families after the Chandlers criticised the department’s support during their 13-month ordeal as being limited to ‘tea and sympathy’.


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