Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
Major General Buster Howes OBE
22 June 2011
Q77 Chair: I welcome Major General
Howes to the third session on this first day of evidence taking.
General Howes, it is very nice to see you. Is there anything
you want to say by way of an opening remark or shall we go straight
Major General Howes: I am mindful
of the fact that you communicated that there is much to discuss.
I only want to say that I am here giving evidence as a European
officer. I am the operational commander of the EUNAVFOR, and
my responses to your questions will be firmly through that lens.
Q78 Chair: That is helpful. Is
there anything you want to say about general scene setting?
Major General Howes: There is
much that I would say, but I suspect that it will come out.
Q79 Chair: Let us talk about the
various command structures. As I understand it, there are three
command structures. Do they overlap with each other? How do
they interact with each other? How do they co-operate, and how
do you avoid them tramping over each other's feet?
Major General Howes: It is probably
fair to use the proverbial metaphor, "If one was going to
set off to Dublin, one wouldn't start from here". The C2
structure looks complicated. Unity of command is a military principle.
You are right. There are three coalitions: the Coalition Maritime
Force, which is largely run through American auspices, NATO and
the one that I representthe European one. Then there are
a whole series of independent actors, who are co-ordinated through
a SHADE mechanism. That works at a tactical level, and it is
focused largely on deconfliction.
But a strong element of pragmatism has developed
over the past three years, since the surge of international endeavour
in the Indian Ocean. On a tactical, day-by-day level, the forces
engaged in the counter-piracy effort will work and co-operate
very closely. We have very similar missions. Small nuances differ.
We seek to force generateforce generating ships is a process
that takes anything up to two years, but typically about 18 monthsto
avoid feast and famine. We offset when Europe has had more success
in eliciting force contributions to ensure that we do not suddenly
have a bull market and then suddenly famine.
We have synchronised our doctrine to a large
degree conceptuallythe way we see our actions developing
in the future. Our intelligence understanding of what the pirates
are doing and are likely to do are all pretty coincident. There
is a strong congruence and close co-operation between those organisations.
Except perhaps in the areas where there is key leader engagement
influenceboth port visits and the way that we seek to engage
in the region where there might be some overlapI do not
believe that there are inefficiencies otherwise.
Q80 Chair: The House of Lords
European Union Committee looked at Operation Atlanta, and said
that it proved itself a credible force in combating pirates in
the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, but it is worried that
it had capability shortfalls. Do you think that that is a fair
Major General Howes: I acknowledge
that there are 2.6 million square miles of water. You could fit
the whole of Europe into the space that we are seeking to police,
and typically there are somewhere between five and eight assets
in the Indian Ocean, and perhaps the same in the Gulf of Aden.
There is a considerable surge of ships there currently because
of all the other interests, of which you will be well aware.
The pirates do not discriminate; they see a warship, and a warship
is a warship. The fact that Yemen and other areas are unstable
and the world is taking an interest in that means, at the moment,
a lot of ships are there.
Are we able to police the entire area effectively?
No, we are not. You have a map in front of you.
The locus of a modern warship on the scale of that map and what
it can actively survey and influence in an hour is about a pinprick.
If it has a helicopter, it is about three times the size of a
full stop. That gives you an idea of the scale.
We seek to optimise those scarce assets through
clever use of surveillance and the maritime patrol and reconnaissance
aircraft. The P3, in particular, which is the most sophisticated
form, is able to interrogate 360,000 square miles of ocean in
an hour. Partly through intelligence analysis, which gives us
an idea of where the pirate will operate, we cue our assets accordingly
and, partly through careful use of our surveillance devices, we
can position our ships to best effect.
Q81 Chair: The P3?
Major General Howes: It is a kind
of maritime patrol aircraft. It is the most capable one.
Q82 Chair: Where are they based?
Major General Howes: At the moment,
they are based in Djibouti. We sometimes chop them down into
the Seychelles. We run the Luxembourg charter on our behalf to
commercial aircraft, with less capability and less endurance.
For some time, we have been negotiating with Oman and those discussions
continue in order to better locate those surveillance assets.
You will see from the map that I have handed outthe key
indicates what the coloured dots denotethat the problem
has been displaced as a consequence of the actions of the military
forces and indeed the track that commercial vessels now adopt
and is largely in the North Arabian Sea. It would be better in
terms of time on station and endurance if we could place those
assets nearer the problem as it is currently perceived.
Q83 Chair: You are working on
Major General Howes: We are.
Q84 Chair: I come to a point that
I put to Mr Askins earlier on about the UN Law of the Sea Convention,
which gives you powers to operate. Does it give you enough power?
Are you using the powers to their full extent?
Major General Howes: Yes, we are.
The UN Law of the Sea was not written with this problem in mind.
I suspect Mr Askins is better qualified to answerwe are
playing ping-pong on the questions that we refuse to answerbut
unpacking those laws would then invite people to deliberate on
things like jurisdiction in Antarctica, the ownership of the Sandwich
Islands and a whole load of other things. If you tried to tease
out a bit of UNCLOS, you would be in real difficulty.
They provide us with some problems. This is
not piracy in the classic sense that Emperor Augustus, Pliny and
raiders off the Barbary Coast in 1753 would recognise. It is
hostage and ransom. The mandate of all three major coalitions
within the auspices of UNCLOS does not allow us do very much beyond
disrupting pirates in the act. We can disrupt them, but the problems
of prosecution and the leverage those laws give us to actually
prosecute are limited.
Q85 Chair: Do we need to amend
the Convention or, indeed, to have a convention focusing on this
Major General Howes: We are engaged
in a constabulary task, and that is the fundamental guiding principle
that constrains what we can do. So force can only be applied
in self-defence and in a wholly proportionate and minimal fashion.
Q86 Chair: I know that you are
representing the EU, but do you think that any national jurisdictions
need to have a fresh look at the problem to give more powers to
Major General Howes: We have looked
at this. I am not being evasive; I am just trying to think of
a sensible answer. Does UNCLOS give us all we want? No, it doesn't,
but it is such an involved area that I am not necessarily sure
that, in any sort of bounded fashion, one could address the bit
we wanted to. If you could have a codicil to UNCLOS, which specifically
engaged in some of the risks, our ROE are sufficient, so that
is not the issue.
Within the bounding laws, what we can do is
entirely sufficient. The laws themselves apply certain restrictions,
but our national laws also apply restrictions. There are no nations
in Europe that have capital punishment. If they didand
we are hunting criminals notwithstanding the fact that these people
have not been triedpresumably there would be less concern
about applying lethal force. But this is a constabulary task.
That is where the restriction lies, not in the broader terms
Chair: We are not trying to catch anyone
out here. We are just genuinely trying to see whether there is
anything more to be done.
Q87 Mr Watts: I do not know, Major
General, whether you were in when I was riding my hobby horse
of co-operation and co-ordination, but the map demonstrates the
scale of the problem you face, which is a tremendous task. We
have heard that the Russians and the Chinese have convoy systems
for guiding their ships through the difficult places. Is there
not a need for all countries to sit down and work out some sort
of system for working together to guide international freight
through these seas togetherusing all their resources together,
rather than in isolation?
Major General Howes: We absolutely
do that. There is something called the Internationally Recommended
Transit Corridor with which you will be familiar, and which runs
through the constrained area of the Gulf of Aden. Because it
is constrained, that was obviously the first fishing point for
them. They knew that 23,000 ships were going to transit through$1
trillion worth of trade passes through the Gulf of Aden a year;
48,000 ships transit the Indian Ocean, but that is a much larger
area, so go for the narrow aperture and attack ships there.
The first effort of the international community
collaboratively across the coalitions to systemise their response
was essentially to set up a serious of boxes that are picketed
by warships. This is about applying those assets most efficiently,
such that we can respond anywhere within that picketed box within
half an hour. In theory, if a ship is attacked and is able to
fend that pirate attack off for that period of time, we will come
to its assistance.
There has not been a successful pirate attack
in the Gulf of Aden since September 2008,
because the IRTC works very well. There have been a series of
disruptions of pirate action groups operating there, and they
have made attempts to pirate vessels, but they have not been successful.
Clearly, the consequence of the success of that is that the problem
You will see, probably on the other side of
your map, that those measles are in an area that is euphemistically
known as "the fan". That is because they can't gain
purchase successfully in the Gulf of Aden. The other reason why
the Gulf of Aden is attractive to them is that it is not subject
to the monsoon disruptions. The weather conditions in the Indian
Ocean are such that it is impossible to launch skiffs, which are
the attack vessels.
Most recently, we have seen piracy displaced
into the southern end of the Red Sea. That is particularly problematic
because there is no international water at that pointthe
sovereign waters of Eritrea, Yemen and Djibouti overlapso
we are allowed, as military forces, the right of innocent passage
there. We are allowed to go to the assistance of a ship when it's
attacked or when we're requested to intervene, but otherwise we
can't conduct patrols there, so the fact that it has now gone
east and west means that the IRTC as a deterrent is effective,
but as a disruptive force it is not.
I heard you asking the previous witness about
private armed security. Our estimate is that between 15% and 25%,
conservatively, of the vessels passing through the Bab el-Mandeb
now have private armed security guards on board, which is a significant
and effective deterrent to pirate boarding. One could perhaps
say that if that becomes the norm and the majority of commercial
ships in the future have those capabilities on board, we may be
in a position to apply some of our assets elsewhere. We try very
hard to sweat the asset as hard as we can.
The Russians and the Chinese run convoys because,
bluntly, they have been more interested in looking after their
ships as opposed to other ships. They do brigade them up. The
risk of running convoys is that people hang around the gathering
point at either end: they are sometimes vulnerable in consequence.
However, both models, because they produce an element of uncertainty,
add value. The convoy system is a harder one to co-ordinate, which
has a bearing on how assets are also used.
Q88 Mr Watts: There are routes
that you are trying to guide ships into. From a look at the map,
there doesn't seem to be a pattern there; they seem to be all
over the place.
Major General Howes: In the Indian
Ocean, they are all over the place, for a number of reasonspartly
because they go where they will. One of the things about the sea
is that people will do as they will.
Q89 Mr Watts: That goes back to
Major General Howes: It also goes
back to enforcement. It is not us co-ordinating assets. There
are people who do not observe even the minimums of best management
practice. You can wag your finger at them as much as you like,
but it is their riskthe sea is a global common. The fact
that those measles appear rather randomly relates to the patterns
of trade. Some of those vessels are going into the ports that
they have to go into while the jetstream, if you like, is displaced
east towards the Indian littoral. At some stage, they need to
go into Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, and if they are picked off
1,000 nautical miles off the coast, you'll have a dot there.
Q90 Rory Stewart: If this is a
constabulary operation and you're doing this needle in a haystack
stuff, and a lot of the problems are being caused by people who
are not taking even the most basic precautions to co-ordinate
or protect themselves, surely the answer, similar to a constabulary
operation in Britain, would be to push far more responsibility
on to the ship owners and to really ramp up the pressure on them
to protect themselves and get out of the situation in which they
are abrogating responsibility? It seems to make no sense, with
so few vessels in such a large area, for you to be running round
chasing this; surely it makes much more sense for the vessels
to protect themselves?
Major General Howes: It does.
I do not argue with anything you say. It is nice to see you again,
Rory. We have three effects to achieve: to deter, to disrupt
and to protect. We do the deter tactically quite well; strategically,
we don't, because the cost-benefit analysis for the pirates is
so extreme in terms of their impoverished state and what they
stand to earn, that it is very, very hard to get that into their
fat heads. We disrupt successfully. Protection, I completely
concur, is better done by the ships themselves.
The fourth iteration of best management practice
is about to be published. A year ago, I would have been similarly
vexed by the lack of seriousness with which the industry seemed
to be taking the issue, but they are a lot better now. We have
a sophisticated and continuing dialogue with the industry, both
with BIMCO, IMOall the big actorsbut also with individuals
within them. Six months ago, they were really truculent about
what we were not doing. Speaking briefly as a national naval
officer, I was confronted by people saying, "Well, if the
Navy doesn't do this, what is it for?" but they have reluctantly
recognised the issue.
There is a dynamic tension here: they are commercial
actors and the whole business of arming themselves goes completely
counter to their whole tradition and method. There are 785,000
seafarers in the world, 35% of whom are Filipinos. It is a pretty
miserable life and the people who engage in it do what they do,
but expecting them to do much more than that is sometimes problematic.
However, they are getting better at adopting BMP, and the big
organisations that I have talked about are getting better at holding
people's feet to the flames.
There would probably be merit, if one could
achieve it, in making some sort of conditionality to do with seaworthiness.
There is a definition of seaworthiness, and you have to be certified
to put to sea and be insured, but the current definition does
not include anti-piracy-worthiness. We have had a discussion
about how one might do this. We have also had discussions about
how one might hold back insurance payment if a ship was piratedand
they almost invariably are, if they are not following BMP. If
people are following all the systems that we in consultation with
the industry have articulated, they are usually okay. It is the
low, slow, inattentive vessels which will come up on MSCHOA or
UKMTO, the two monitoring organisations, to say, "Help, help,
there are pirates on the bridge." Game over. There is nothing
to be done. We can subsequently try to disrupt, but there is
nothing to be done. Once they follow BMP, though, they are usually
Some of the flag nations, of which I have a
list, appear to be just non-co-operative. There are 140 flag
states, of which about 40 do not even report their movements,
so our ability to manage what we call a white pictureto
understand what shipping is doing what in this area and to warn
One of the obvious things to try to do is to
see and avoid. If you can fingerprint a pirate action group and
you know that it is operating in a certain area and that innocent
vessels are sailing towards it or in that vicinity, you warn them
and try to move them around the threat. You can only do that
if you have a reasonable understanding of who is where, and 40
of the 140 flag nations are disinclined to tell us where their
ships are going. That is about 10% only of those ships operating
in the high-risk area, but it is still 10%.
Q91 Sir John Stanley: I have
two questions. First, have you made any requests for either deployment
of air assets or additional maritime assets to Diego Garcia?
If so, what response did you get?
Major General Howes: Not to my
Q92 Sir John Stanley: Second question:
if you went to your staffs and said, "The political masters
have asked you to come up with a statement of what military naval
air assets you need in order to be able to deal witheffectively,
extinguishthis problem," what would be the order of
their response as to what you need in terms of air assets, naval
assets, and types of trained personnel and vessels?
Major General Howes: If I might,
I would start by taking issue with the fact that there is a military
solution to this problem. We are treating the symptom only. We
are containing a problem that emanates directly as a consequence
of instability in Somalia, so the only way this is going to be
resolved is over a long period of time with a comprehensive approach
that reduces the insecurity in that country. There are lots of
impoverished countries in this region, but they do not have a
systemic piracy problem because they are able to cauterise it.
We contain the symptom. I add one codicil to
that, though, which is that it is also becoming a vector of instability.
You can visit the region, particularly places such as Kenya and
Tanzania, and see that, for example, in Nairobi, there is a very
noticeable increase in criminality and violence as a consequence
of the Somali diaspora and the very significant sums of money
that are starting to flow in there. There is a geopolitical dimension
to this. The trade into Mombasa has been seriously impacted: three
years ago there were 53 cruise liners there; two years ago there
were three; and last year there was one, and it was attacked.
Mombasa services five hinterland African countries; Dar es Salaam
services eight; 85% of Uganda's trade comes through Dar es Salaam.
There is a big regional dynamic to this. In my judgment, the Indian
Ocean is not going to become less important over the next 20 years.
If you ask me a very blunt maritime question
as to how many naval assets I would need to blanket the Indian
Ocean in order to give me a one-hour response time equivalent-ish
to that which I currently, across the coalitions, can manage in
the IRTC, I would say that I need 83 helicopter-equipped frigates
or destroyers. As far as MPRA is concerned, these reconnaissance
Q93 Mr Ainsworth: You've only
Major General Howes: Yes, between
five and eight in the Indian Ocean. Sorry, I should have said
a 30-minutes response time, not an hour. As far as the aircraft
are concerned, we have five, which is more than normalwe
usually have threeand five is about all I need. As long
as I can get the information, I can process it into intelligence
and disseminate it. We are never going to raise that sort of level
of capability. There are other ways of doing it and of applying
pressure. You are, I think, visiting the headquarters later this
Chair: A week tomorrow.
Major General Howes: We will unpack
those for you. We are in an unclassified forum now, but we can
explain in greater detail what we envisage doing to apply more
effectively particular capabilities at particular times in order
to erode the pirates' sense of impunity.
There is a psychological dynamic to this, which
bears both on the confidence of the seafarer and the way they
behave and, more particularly, on the pirates. There is a tendency
to see them as unitary actorsthat there is a strategic
purpose behind what they do. There is not. Like all asymmetric
threats, they are very nimble. They have an intellectual cunning
and they are adaptable. They sometimes outthink us in terms of,
"If we do this, what will they then do?" They can certainly
react more quickly than we can. There is no guiding principle
behind it, and there certainly is no doctrine. One of the reasons
that they are unpredictable is because, very often, they probably
do not know what they are going to do next.
Q94 Sir John Stanley: I take your
point that you made at the outset: the key thing is Somalia and
the state of that country. Personally, I do not see any remote
possibility whatever of the international community being able
to make any significant deployment that would change the shape
of Somalia in the foreseeable future, so we are left with the
military issue that you are trying to grapple with.
If I have understood you correctly, you are
saying that, provided you can get your full air asset deployments,
you have the coverage you need, but obviously you have a huge
shortfall of surface naval vessels. If you were starting from
scratch, would you go for the existing structure of surface naval
vesselsconventional frigates, destroyers and helicopter-bearing
vesselsor would you want to use non-helicopter-bearing
vessels that are used by specialist forces, with much higher speed
capabilities through water?
Major General Howes: A helicopter
is an enormous force multiplier. A pirate can be very tenacious.
I refer to the point that Mr Askins made. In 2008, they had a
different modelI do not know whether you have unpacked
this. They would set off from the Somali coast in skiffs and whalers,
crammed with food, water, ladders, weapons and fuel, and they
would navigate by guess and by God off the coast. A prudent mariner
would steam for nine days and have 10 days loiter time, at which
point he would hope to get lucky and catch a ship; he would give
himself one day's fudge factor and 10 days to get back. Somalis
do not do that: they steam for 30 days until they run out of everything,
at which point, in desperation, crazed with thirst and emaciated,
they will go for anything. They will have a crack at a ship with
a 49-foot freeboard doing 18 knots at night. That is not a trivial
undertaking. SorryI've lost the thread of the question.
Q95 Sir John Stanley: I was asking
whether you would do your force multipliers by the conventional
grey warriorsfrigates and destroyersor whether you
would go for far more high-performance vessels?
Major General Howes: The butt
of that is whether you can put a helicopter above them quickly.
The pirates will chase commercial ships and fire small-arms rounds
and/or RPG to try to force them to stop, but when military forces
appear, they will soon pull away. They are desperate, but they
are not mad. So a helicopterthis business of response in
half an hour or an houris a huge advantage.
Fast patrol boats probably have utility in close
inshore waters, but you are thinking more in terms of coastguard,
I would suggest, than in policing the open waters of the Indian
Ocean. There are big seas out there and the sea-keeping capabilities
of small, fast craft are an issue. Not only is it a pretty difficult
existence, but the sea conditions are such that it is difficult
to optimise the utility of one of those ships. It just does not
have the sea-keeping capabilities.
I touched on the fact that there is a problem
of ships being interdicted heading into Mombasa 1,000 nautical
miles away. This is a consequence of the pirate mothership model,
which has developed since November last year. That is a great
concern, because if we are to build capacity, realistically we
are only ever going to build modest coastguard capacity, which
will help defray the international commitment to this endeavour.
But if the ships are being pirated 1,000 nautical miles away,
that is never going to answer the question. It takes ocean-going
navies with a full panoply of capabilities, to be able to communicate
their radars and so on, to be able to intercept people in the
Q96 Mr Ainsworth: We are not allowed
in international waters to do what Pompey the Great did to clear
the Barbary Coast. However, there are nations that operate more
robustly than we do. You will have read in the national press
what a bunch of pansies we are and how Nelson is turning in his
grave. Do you think that you need those more robust activities
or rules of engagement? Do you think that they are effective?
How far are we off the international ceiling in terms of what
we are allowed to do in international law?
Major General Howes: Mr Askins
mentioned the South Koreans, the Russians and the Indians. Their
actions and recourse to significantly more kinetic means than
we have applied are matters for them. Has it deterred the pirates?
Yes. We have clear recognition of that. If you look at your measle
chart, the fact that ships are not pirated close to the Indian
subcontinent is not accidental. Pirates are leery about straying
too close in to those waters, so that works.
Without wishing to sound unctuous, I would say
that the law is the law. The experience of things like Breadbasket
and Abu Ghraib is pretty clear when you start to try to be flexible
with that. I am very clear where we stand in terms of both our
ROE and the application of lethal violence. If the law changes,
we will exploit the full flexibility of that, but at the moment
it sits pretty clearly and we are doing what we can. There is
a reputational issue, which I completely acknowledge, and navies
throughout Europe are bearing the brunt of that. It is not that
they are invertebrates; I suggest that the 1,700 or so men and
women in the Indian Ocean are a hell of a lot more frustrated
than the readers of The Sun by the things that they are
currently unable to do.
Q97 Mr Ainsworth: We have heard
even this afternoon that we need new rules of engagement, particularly
to tackle motherships. You must have had pretty detailed discussions
with the people whom you are trying to protect. Have you heard
sensible propositions for new rules of engagement that would enable
you to do that?
Major General Howes: We have.
I am not at liberty to discuss detail on rules of engagement,
but we have achieved some flexibility in how we specifically address
The mothership problem materialised because
we had essentially constrained the ability of pirates to disperse
their skiffs and whalers off the coast of Puntland. They scratched
their heads and thought, "If we can't get off the beach a
lot of the time because the waves prevent usthe sea state
is such that we can't deploy, and during the south-east and north-west
monsoon we are constrainedand the international forces
have a way of putting a full-court pressing on it which constrains
us further, what are we going to do? Well, we will set up camps
afloat and we will pirate one ship after another, which means
that we have to return back to the shore camp less often."
Oh dearthat's a complication for us.
The further complication is that every pirated
ship has hostages on board, so our ability to disrupt such ships
with the impunity with which we would disrupt a skiff with just
pirates on board is compromised. We applied an algorithm or a
sort of a logic that was very much informed by what we felt we
could do with pirated ships, in the anchorages, which had hostages
The thing about a motor vesselone of
the large commercial shipswhich is pirated and then used
as a pirate mothership, is that it presents the pirate with a
range of the logistic challenges that confront us. You are back
to the tyranny of distance and 2.6 million square miles of waterfor
example, he has to fuel that ship. It might give him radar, sea-keeping,
endurance and some advantages, but it presents him with some pretty
substantial disadvantages, one of which is the fact that we can
track it, so the see and avoid thing becomes easier, as opposed
to a dhow, which is a hell of a lot harder to track, not least
because there are, illustratively, half a million of them in the
Indian littoral waters alone.
The spectrum of pirate ships goes: skiff, whaler,
dhow, fishing vessel, motor vessel. They ran hard and fast with
motor vessels, with significant effect for a considerable period
of time. We have now responded and are better able to counter
that. We have also become more sophisticated in our understanding
of how they respond. A motor vessel is a prize, so if they are
using it for pirate purposes and we seek to disrupt or attack
it, they will fight back, principally because the ship is worth
a lot of money to them. They will fight back much less robustly
for a dhow, because they are 10 a penny.
We also have started to appreciate that the
hostages on board are not always hostages, partly because you
get Stockholm syndrome among people living in close proximity,
but sometimes they never were. Sometimes the dhows sail from Yemen
and offer their services, and you get Somali pirates on board
and Yemeni crew, and they are all working together.
In the business of only being able to liberate
ships with hostages on board, with very specific capabilities
because of the risks to those hostages, we are starting to be
more pragmatic. We have given greater freedoms of action to force
commanders to disrupt as they judge, and that has not caused problems
Q98 Mr Ainsworth: You have given
us a great insight to the complexities, the tactical gains and
shifts that go on over a period of time. How sustainable is the
project? What does victory look like? Is victory achievable? This
appears to be war without end, doesn't it? No end is possible,
is it? We will change and adapt and find ways of dealing with
the motherships, but how sustainable is the operation? Is there
any chance of suppressing piracy in the foreseeable future? Will
any change of rules of engagement or anything help?
Major General Howes: I don't have
an end state, Mr Ainsworth. My end state is currently when my
mandate runs out, which is December 2012. It would be surprising
to me, for a raft of reasons, not least the reputation of Europe,
if we stepped away from this mission at that juncture, but that
is a matter for Member States.
I concur with you. What does better look like?
What does good enough look like? Is it conceivable that the industry
will, to use a good current expression, "man up" to
the point that they can protect themselves? Possibly. There is
a strong psychological dynamic in all this. We also go back to
the circumstances in Somalia. The Transitional Federal Government,
ropey though they are, are making progress, but we will not have
demonstrable peace in our time, or in a decade. I suspect that
the international community is probably on this hook for some
Q99 Mr Ainsworth: One last question:
from your perspective, is prosecution the answer?
Major General Howes: I think that
prosecution, in terms of force on mind, has a significant effect.
I started off quite cynical. Human rights legislation requires
pirates to be incarcerated in properly found facilities, where
they get three meals a day, and they are taught English and so
on. I visited a prison in Mombasa, where they are held under the
Kenyan transfer agreement. They don't like being in prisonwho
The problem is partly the information operation,
which I think is a weakness across the piecethat is, how
we engage in Puntland, Somaliland and Somalia to exploit the traditional
clan anxieties over piracy itself. They have a significant impact.
The pirate camps have been squeezed in recent months by traditional
clan influence and rejection from the north and by al-Shabab in
the south. There have been instances in places, such as Eyl and
Garacad, where the locals, as we have seen at times in Afghanistan,
have taken things into their own hands and thrown the pirates
out. If we could find ways of engaging with those people better
to exploit that, and if we could find ways of showing the young
pirate, who thinks that by going to sea he's going to tap into
a land of milk and honey, that about 50 of them a month drown
or perish at sea, and some end up in prison for extended periods
of timenot long enough, perhaps, but for extended periods
of timethat would be a good thing.
If we put more inside, that would be a good
thing. At the moment we capture and release 87% of those we seize,
because we have to. I can only speak for the EUNAVFOR, but we
will do everything we can to achieve a prosecution. If we seize
people and build the evidence pack, we are good at itwe
absolutely understand what countries requirebut very few
nations in Europe will take Somali pirates regularly. Britain
has taken none; others have taken some, but we all understand
Q100 Mike Gapes: You referred
to visiting Mombasa. Are we still sending pirate suspects to Kenya,
or has the agreement with the EU broken down?
Major General Howes: The agreement
has broken down, but on an ad hoc basis, we can still negotiate
that. There have been 10 transfers. I have the figures here; something
like 70-something79pirates have been processed through
the Kenyan system. The chief prosecutor and one of the judges
whom I met were concerned about a jurisdictional technicality
in terms of the way that Kenya was dealing with these pirates,
and the whole thing was referred to the Kenyan High Court. There
were procedural difficulties because they needed the test case
involved to require them to move the pirate, so there was a big
faff that delayed the whole thing.
For a range of reasons, Kenya has become nervous
about re-signing that agreement, but they are still prepared to
take them on a case-by-case basis. Bluntly, when we negotiated
that agreement, Kenya had no sense of the volumes that they were
going to be confronted by. They feel aggrieved that they are the
only people, as they see it, who are stepping up their international
obligations, but they will not apply any regional leverage on
the likes of Tanzania to do the same, which is vexing. They see
it as our job.
Q101 Mike Gapes: Can I probe you
on that? You said 87% of the pirates whom you detained have been
released and not prosecuted.
Major General Howes: Correct.
Q102 Mike Gapes: That is the EUNAVFOR
Major General Howes: I think our
statistics are very similar to others.
Q103 Mike Gapes: How many pirates
are actually being prosecuted?
Major General Howes: About 130,
Q104 Mike Gapes: Final question:
are the suspects being released because of the reluctance to have
them come to European states and because you cannot find anywhere
else to put them for prosecution?
Major General Howes: We have an
agreement with the Seychelles, and we are seeking to close an
agreement with Mauritius. We are also in negotiation with Tanzania,
and then there is Kenya. We have constructed two prisons, one
in Puntland and one in Somaliland, and you will be aware of Jack
Chair: We are not, actually. Jack Lamb?
Major General Howes: Jack Lang,
the French Minister, produced a report on the whole business of
the legal jurisdictional prison issue.
Chair: Perhaps we are aware of it actually.
Major General Howes: He made a
series of recommendations that the European Union is still considering.
I don't think I answered your question.
Q105 Mike Gapes: No. Are we releasing
them because of a reluctance to send them to Europe?
Major General Howes: No. Let me
very quickly unpack what happens. First, they are taken. We ask
the captain whether we will be able to produce an evidence pack,
such that we have a chance of prosecution. It takes him time to
make that judgment. The habeus corpus rules, whatever the nationality
of the ship that is responsible for the disruption, will determine
how long they can be held for. If it is a Spanish ship, you have
24 hours, so you have to decide within 24 hours whether you are
going to release people or whether you can transfer them.
We immediately start negotiating with, for
example, Kenya. You have to unlock Kenyan bureaucracyand
it is invariably on a Fridayand say, "Will you take
this prisoner?" They will want to know what the evidence
pack is. Before we do that, though, if it is, say, a British flagged
ship, we will say, "Right. Do you have an interest in this?
Are you prepared to take them?" If it is a Dutch ship, we
say, "Are you prepared to take them?" If the pirates
have murdered a Dutch national, the answer will probably be yes.
You must be familiar with the Quest. Those individuals are now
in American courts.
Sometimes the answer is, "Yes, we'll take
them"bang! Done. Deal cut. Otherwise you are racing
against the deadline of having to release people, because there
are laws that say, "This is what you've got to do. You can't
hold them." I think the record of someone being held at sea
without recourse to judgment or legal representation is 47 days.
That infringes their human rights.
Q106 Mr Watts: You have certainly
dealt with the issue of private security forces. How do private
security guards interact with you and with other Member States?
Major General Howes: This is a
developing area. The European and British position is not to endorse
private armed security companies, but clearly no ship with armed
men on board has ever been successfully pirated, and that fact
is not lost on the industry.
Best practice as far as that is concerned is
obviously very important, and Mr Askins touched on what is being
done to regulate it. We are keen to understand the situation when
we seek to intervene in a ship with armed men on board, because
there is a clear risk of our killing those individuals: if a man
is armed, a man is armed.
Right now, we are in the business of trying
to tie down a doctrine for how these people behave. For example,
you will be familiar with the fact that citadels are part of best
management practice. The principle that we apply is that everyone
locks themselves down there, and that, although the quality of
those citadels is variable, that they can still steer or immobilise
the ship and they have communications and can tell us that everyone
is inside that citadel. If PAMSCsprivate armed peopleare
on board, our advice will be that everyone goes into that citadel,
because once pirates are on the ship, we do not want to have to
Typically, industry will probably have four
armed individuals on a ship, whatever the scale, because of the
cost of armed security. That number is below what we recommendwe
have metricsnot least because of endurance: if a ship is
transiting for a long period of time, how awake will those four
people be? Once pirates are on board, the chances of those individuals
being able to hold them at bay are limited. The advantage of having
private armed people is that they make boarding very difficult.
Climbing up a rope when someone is shooting at you? Not easy.
Q107 Mr Watts: Would I be putting
words in your mouth if I said the European position had stopped
that dialogue before now, but you have now changed your position
in light of the success of the private security industry and are
now engaging with it in a way that you had not in the past?
Major General Howes: We are engaging
with the industry, not the private security companies, just as
we would when talking about best management practice.
Q108 Mr Watts: But you had not
been doing that before.
Major General Howes: No, we have
talked about BMP throughout and this is another permutation of
it. It makes sense to avoid ending up with a Blackwater-type situation,
so an element of pragmatism is involved.
Q109 Mr Watts: What more could
the shipping industry do to protect itself? What is it not doing?
Major General Howes: It could
implement the measures that are all recognised and agreed more
evenly. That is the first point. It could report its presence,
because the better our situational awareness, the better able
we are to intervene and disrupt where it is warranted.
Q110 Mr Watts: I do not want to
put words in your mouth, but the industry is not doing all it
Major General Howes: The major
blocs of the industry are working very hard to raise their game.
On the issue that you touched on previously, at the moment they
are trying hard to codify the whole issue of armed security. Part
of our narrative to them is, "Don't see that bit as the golden
answer. You need to do this as a system of systems. There is a
whole series of processes."
The fact is that the 15% to 25% of vessels that
are travelling through the Fan with armed security are largely
doing so unlawfully. They are doing it because they see it as
the lesser of evils. Governments around the world are now scrambling
to catch up to decide whether they are going to legitimise the
practice and how they are going to do it. That presents governments,
not least the UK Government, with a whole series of challenges.
I am sure the Attorney-General has a view on that.
Q111 Mr Baron: Some suggest that
there is a link between terrorism and the Somali pirates. The
FCO's offical position is that no such link exists. What is your
take on that?
Major General Howes: We see no
evidence to suggest that it does. In the ungoverned spaces of
Somalia it would be counter-intuitive to assume that there aren't
advantages. The clan system is very complex and rather opaque,
although there are individuals who know about itwe had
a man working for us for five years who is an expert on this.
Is it likely that one hand washes the other? To a degree. Do we
have evidence of that? No.
Chair: Thank you very much, General.
The mere fact that we've overrun our time
Major General Howes: I'm sorry
Q112 Chair: That's alright. It
shows that what you were saying was absolutely absorbing, and
we really appreciate your taking the time. We look forward to
seeing you next week. Will we be seeing you?
Major General Howes: I have moved
things around, so, yes, you will. I will be able to be a lot more
candid. These have been fairly generalised responses.
Chair: That's good. Thank you very much
1 Not printed. Back
Note by witness: the actual date is September 2010. Back