Piracy off the Coast of Somalia - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


Examination of Witness (Question Numbers 77-112)

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 into questions?

  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 represent—the 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 generate—force generating ships is a process that takes anything up to two years, but typically about 18 months—to 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 conceptually—the 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 influence—both port visits and the way that we seek to engage in the region where there might be some overlap—I 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 comment?

  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.[1] 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 out—the key indicates what the coloured dots denote—that 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 that?

  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 answer—we are playing ping-pong on the questions that we refuse to answer—but 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 particular problem?

  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 respond?

  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 did—and we are hunting criminals notwithstanding the fact that these people have not been tried—presumably 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 of UNCLOS.

  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 together—using 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,[2] 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 is displaced.

  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 point—the sovereign waters of Eritrea, Yemen and Djibouti overlap—so 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 reasons—partly 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 co-ordination then.

  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 risk—the 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, IMO—all the big actors—but 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 pirated—and 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 all right.

  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 picture—to understand what shipping is doing what in this area and to warn people—is reduced.

  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 knowledge, sir.

  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 with—effectively, extinguish—this 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 aircraft—

  Q93 Mr Ainsworth: You've only got five?

  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 normal—we usually have three—and 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 week?

  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 actors—that 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 vessels—conventional frigates, destroyers and helicopter-bearing vessels—or 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 model—I 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. Sorry—I'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 warriors—frigates and destroyers—or 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 helicopter—this business of response in half an hour or an hour—is 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 deep ocean.

  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 motherships.

  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 us—the sea state is such that we can't deploy, and during the south-east and north-west monsoon we are constrained—and 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 dear—that'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 on board.

  The thing about a motor vessel—one of the large commercial ships—which 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 water—for 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 to date.

  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 time.

  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 prison—who does?

  The problem is partly the information operation, which I think is a weakness across the piece—that 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 time—not long enough, perhaps, but for extended periods of time—that 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 it—we absolutely understand what countries require—but very few nations in Europe will take Somali pirates regularly. Britain has taken none; others have taken some, but we all understand why.

  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-something—79—pirates 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 figure.

  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, I think.

  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 Lang's report.

  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 bureaucracy—and it is invariably on a Friday—and 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 PAMSCs—private armed people—are 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 discriminate.

  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 recommend—we have metrics—not 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 can.

  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 it—we 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 about that.

  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 indeed.



1   Not printed. Back

2   Note by witness: the actual date is September 2010. Back


 
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