UK Government Faces Difficult Decisions On Fight Against Piracy

A report from the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has said that guidance on the use of lethal force for armed guards is a matter of urgency and the government must act now before a situation arises.

The report said that government guidance on the use of force, particularly lethal force, was very limited and there was little to help a master make a judgement on where force could be used.

“The government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not,” the committee urged. “Guidance over the use of potentially lethal force should not be left to private companies to agree upon. We recommend that the change of policy be accompanied by clear, detailed and unambiguous guidance on the legal use of force for private armed guards defending a vessel under attack.”

It recommended that the guidance be consistent with the rules that would govern the use of force by members of the UK armed forces in similar circumstances.

The report also urged the government to assess the risk that private maritime security companies, and possibly the masters of ships on which they operate, might face extradition to another state following an incident involving the use of weapons.

The report also questioned how the UK could continue to play a “leading role” in the international response without the visible commitment of at least one British naval vessel to these operations at all times.

“The government has contributed naval assets to all three of the naval operations at different times, but the minister could not offer a guarantee that this commitment would not be cut in future.”

There was also confusion surrounding accountability between government departments and the committee has recommended that the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office provide in its response to this report a statement clarifying which department is responsible for each aspect of the Government’s response to Somali piracy, and which department has the overall lead on the UK’s response to piracy off the coast of Somalia.

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