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UK blocks sanctions against suspected Somali pirates

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UK blocks sanctions against suspected Somali pirates


By Paul Reynolds World affairs correspondent,


BBC News website


Legal problems are still hindering the effort to deal with Somali pirates.

SPS Victoria and pirate skiff The SPS Victoria fired warning shots to

prevent the pirates fleeing


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.

Continue reading the main story

Sanctioning Pirates


* A UN sanctions committee can add names to its list under Security

Council resolution 1844

* The assets of people on the list are frozen and they are subjected to

a travel ban

* No actual alleged pirates have been listed so far


The British action, known as a technical hold, was taken back in April and

has not been lifted.


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



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.

Doing business


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.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote


In the 19th Century the problem would have been dealt with in somewhat

shorter orderâ€


End Quote


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



For example, on 29 July the Maltese-flagged merchant vessel MV Frigia was

freed with its crew of 21. It had been hijacked on 23 March. It is presumed

that money changed hands.


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".

Warning shots


But even the at-sea operations against the pirates are still bedevilled by

inhibitions caused by the law.

Pirates surrendering to crew of SPS Victoria The pirates were arrested, and

weapons were found on the skiff


Early on the morning of 3 August, the Spanish ship SPS Victoria responded

to a distress call from the MV Bow Saga, a Norwegian chemical tanker, that

she was under attack in the Gulf of Aden.


The Bow Saga reported that a pirate skiff with seven people on board had

shot at the bridge, damaging the windows. The ship carried out evasive

manoeuvring and deployed fire hoses.


The Victoria already had a helicopter airborne and was able to respond

within 10 minutes. The pirates broke off and tried to flee but the Victoria

fired warning shots, first from the helicopter and then from the warship

and the pirates stopped.


Weapons were found on the skiff.


However, EU Navfor has now reported: "The seven individuals apprehended

have been returned to Somalia."


It stated that "due to the legal framework and timeliness encompassing

piracy and criminal activity at sea, the prosecution of the seven

individuals in this specific case could not be initiated with confidence."


That encapsulates the problem. 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.

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