“Royal Navy running welfare system for pirates?”
Close on the heels of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association (HKSOA) expressing frustration at “ the seeming impotence of the international community to address the continuing piracy crisis in the Indian Ocean, with around 1,500 seafarers having so far been taken hostage for ransom”, comes criticism in the British media about their Government’s handling of the crisis.
The UK Daily Mail reports that the “extraordinary revelations by Defence Minister Baroness Taylor will add to concern about the role of the Navy in tackling piracy. Suspected Somali pirates captured by the Royal Navy are being given fuel, food and water and sent on their way”. Reports say that pirates were released on three occasions even though hostages had been found and released from on board their vessels!
Baroness Taylor said there had been four instances in the last year when heavily armed Somali gangs had been given supplies on humanitarian grounds. None of the 66 suspects captured by the Navy in the last year has been taken into custody. Media reports have been very critical of the British stand after British sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler were kidnapped even as a naval ship stood by. Their captors have threatened to kill them after several attempts to ransom them out failed.
To add to the mess, former Tory Chairman Lord Tebbit says that ministers had indicated privately that suspected pirates were not being arrested because of fears they might claim asylum in the UK. He said that the Royal Navy seemed to be “hamstrung by the 'morass of human rights laws and political correctness'. Lord Tebbit revealed that the fear of asylum seekers goes back to November 2008, when the warship Cumberland arrested eight Somali pirates attempting to hijack a Dutch cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, killing two others. Lord Tebbit said he had been told the arrests had caused 'panic' at the Foreign Office and Home Office because of fears about legal claims for asylum.
Since then, the Royal Navy has boarded six pirate ships off Somalia that had on board a total of 66 armed pirates. Weapons seized included rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles, pistols and ammunition. Baroness Taylor said the men were all released, as there was 'insufficient evidence' to arrest anyone. In fact, the Navy provided water, fuel and food to the pirates! One former naval officer is quoted as saying that the Royal navy “appeared to be operating a 'maritime welfare system' rather than enforcing law on the high seas”. Lord Tebbit says that the seized weapons should have been enough evidence.
It is small wonder that the HKSOA has been so scathing in its statement, calling attention to “an unacceptable situation now, with seafarer’s lives being threatened on a daily basis, and Somali pirates still operating with impunity”. The statement tellingly adds, “If a similar number of aircraft passengers had been taken hostage there would undoubtedly have been a more robust response. However, many governments seem oblivious to the fact that ships carry around 90% of world trade. In effect, pirates are being given a message that their criminal activity carries very few risks in comparison to the payments. As a result, the number of pirates is growing, and there is real danger that, in the absence of a firm response, their methods of hijack and violent kidnapping will be successfully emulated by others elsewhere”.