Tuesday, August 10, 2010

UK Blocks Sanctions Against Suspected Somali Pirates

Via BBC (Aug 9, 2010) -

It's emerged that the British government is blocking a move at the UN to take action against two suspected pirate organisers.

This is despite tough British language condemning pirates and the paying of ransom, and its contribution of warships to the anti-pirate operation run by the EU, known as EU Navfor.

The EU operation has itself been reduced to near farce in the last week, with a Spanish ship having to send pirates back to Somalia, after catching them red-handed, because the problems of prosecuting them are too great.

A look first at the British position.

The Foreign Office in London confirmed a story in the Financial Times that the UK is blocking an American proposal to add the names of two alleged pirate leaders to a UN sanctions list.


The reason, I am told, is that the paying of ransom is not a criminal offence in the UK. This has made it possible for ransom to be paid for dozens of ships and their crews, and many of the negotiations go through London.

But, the argument is, if the suspected pirate leaders, named by the Foreign Office as Abshir Abdillahi and Mohamed Abdi Garaad (with numerous variants) are put on the UN sanctions list, then ransom in effect becomes an offence in the UK and might put an end to many ransom deals.

According to British officials Abdillahi and Garaad are "high-profile pirate leaders involved in hijacks in the Gulf of Aden".

Indeed, they are alleged to be so influential that almost all ransoms are said to involve them in some way.


Britain has applied the technical hold because it is under pressure from ship-owners and seafarers who prefer the present system. This system is basically one of doing business, not waging war. The ship is taken, negotiations take place, the money is paid and the ship and its crew are released.


Gavin Simmons of the London Chamber of Shipping told the FT: "To discontinue payments or make them illegal would jeopardise the safety of seafarers held captive."

This is something of an embarrassment to the British government. Foreign Office officials told me it was being discussed "at the highest level" and something might develop "in the next few months".


Pirates caught in the act cannot easily be prosecuted and in this case were simply sent back home.

Kenya has taken about 100 pirate suspects and has imprisoned about 20 of them. But Kenya is now threatening to withdraw its co-operation, saying that it is not being given enough support.

Both examples show how far the international community is from solving a problem that in the 19th Century would have been dealt with in somewhat shorter order.


Beyond Kenya, there are other nations in the area that are working with the international community to jail pirates caught in the action - i.e. Seychelles.

But this latest technical hold by the British is an interesting Catch-22.

More and more ships are being armed with anti-pirate countermeasures (e.g. water cannons, armed guards while at sea, wire & railing protection, etc)...but at the same time, if a ship is hijacked, the ship-owners [understandably] want to pass the ransom and just get their crew back safely.

But as the anti-pirate measures increase, so do the actions of the pirates...and thus there is a greater chance of harm coming to the crew during the hijack. Therefore, at what point will companies decide enough is enough and stop paying. After two crew members are killed during each hijack attempt? Three? After more proof is found that groups are working with organized crime rings??

And without putting a clear legal framework in place now for holding and jailing these pirates...how can we move forward after that threshold is reached?


  1. For an indepth look at the Somali pirates, see the forthcoming book, Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea.

  2. Thanks Peter.

    Will you be releasing it as an B&N eBook as well?

    For those that prefer Amazon...