EU anti-piracy fight with warships 'must go on'

Undated handout photo issued by the Ministry of Defence of HMS Westminster"s Merlin 502 firing at the pirate skiff, fire starting on impact, as the ship disrupted piracy in the Indian Ocean during her 7 month deployment to the region. EU forces have destroyed pirate ships as part of Operation Atalanta

The European Union should continue to use warships to tackle pirates off the coast of Somalia following a reduction in the rate of kidnappings, a parliamentary committee has said.

Operation Atalanta, which also involves putting armed guards on ships, has been in place since 2008.

The Lords EU Committee said hostage-taking had more than halved in the last year and said funding should go beyond a planned cut-off at the end of 2014.

It also urged more aid for Somalia.

Kidnappings involving shipping travelling past the coast of the east African country - which has not had a stable government since 1991 - have become rife in recent years.

One of the highest-profile cases was that of British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken hostage for more than a year after being held while on a round-the-world sailing trip.

'Not invulnerable'

In 2008 the EU set up Operation Atalanta, its first naval task force, to try to defeat the problem. Pirate ships have been attacked, with armed guards being placed on commercial vessels to deter hostage-taking.

In April, the EU expanded the remit to include assaults on pirates' land bases, with a well-known lair near the port of Haradhere fired upon.

Start Quote

No ship with an armed guard has been pirated and the use of guards has not escalated violence”

End Quote Lords EU committee report

The committee's report notes: "We welcome the EU Atalanta attack on the pirate land base as an effective demonstration to the pirates that they are not invulnerable on land."

It also welcomes the increase in trials and imprisonment of pirates, but it raises concerns that transferring those sentenced back into Somalian custody increases the risk of breakouts.

It recommends more emphasis on rehabilitating pirates and increasing aid to the country to remove poverty, deemed to be one of the key causes of piracy.

The committee admits it has "changed" its view on the use of armed guards since its last report on the issue, in 2010, finding that "no ship with an armed guard has been pirated and the use of guards has not escalated violence".

Its chairman, Liberal Democrat Lord Teverson, said: "Operation Atalanta has clearly made real progress in reducing the threat of Somali piracy. However if the situation is to continue to improve it is important the pirates know the international commitment to stop their activities is real and ongoing.

"To ensure this Operation Atalanta should now have its remit extended beyond 2014."

He added: "As we identified in our previous report reducing piracy requires reducing the incentive for Somalis to become pirates. As well as increasing the risk involved by improving detection and punishment of those engaged in piracy we also need viable alternatives for Somalis to provide for their families.

"Again the EU is making progress but it is important that aid is now focused on providing alternative forms of livelihood so people don't resort to piracy."

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