By Maximilian Clarke

As a state whose strengths and vulnerabilities are distinctly maritime, the United Kingdom should play a leading role in the fight against Somali piracy, the Commons Select Committee have said.

The costs of allowing piracy to proliferate are high, the report entitled Piracy off the coast of Somalia, published today, found. The British shipping industry is worth £10.7 billion to the UK's GDP, and the costs of security, insurance, re-routing have vastly increased the costs of doing business. Over $300 million has been paid in ransoms to Somali pirates over the past four years, and thousands of seafarers have been held hostage, some of whom have been subject to cruel treatment and even torture.

"It is unacceptable that 2.6 million square miles of the Indian Ocean has become a no-go area for small vessels, and a dangerous one for commercial shipping,” committee Chair Richard Ottaway MP. “There is a clear need to take decisive action.

“Naval forces have had some success, but they cannot hope to police such a large area of operation. Ship owners must take responsibility for their own protection, and the Government must let them do so.

“The Government was right to permit private armed guards to defend British flagged shipping against Somali pirates, but its guidance on the legal use of force lacks critical detail. The question anyone would ask is that if a private armed guard on board a UK flagged vessel sees an armed skiff approaching at high speed, can the guard open fire? The Government must provide clearer direction on what is permissible and what is not."

“The committee expresses surprise that so little is known about what happens to ransom money, which topped $135 million this year alone. It finds that the Government has been "disappointingly slow to take action on financial flows relating to ransom payments, particularly given the information that could be available from British companies involved".

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