BRUSSELS (Sh.M.Network)-The European Union’s naval operation tackling piracy off the coast of Somalia should continue beyond its current mandate because it has successfully reduced the number of ships and people taken hostage in the region, a committee in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords has concluded.
A report by the Lords’ EU committee for external affairs said extending Operation Atalanta beyond December 2014 would send a “clear signal” that Europe “will not walk away from confronting piracy in the Indian Ocean”.
It added that ending the mission, which began four years ago, could lead to an “upsurge in pirate activity”. In June this year eight ships and 215 people were taken hostage by pirates in the region – significantly down from 23 ships and 501 people in the same month of 2011, the report said.
The Lords backed the EU operation’s attack on a pirate land base in May as an “effective demonstration to the pirates that they are not invulnerable on land”, and said they supported the use of armed guards to protect shipping.
They noted that “no ships carrying armed guards have so far been successfully pirated and violence has apparently not escalated” and “this practice should continue”.
The EU’s development aid to Somalia “will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future”, the report concluded. It also recommended that Britain should continue its leadership role in the mission because it has been “effective and it brings credit to the UK” – and it compensates for its “limited contribution” of vessels.
Committee chairman Lord Teverson said: “Operation Atalanta has clearly made real progress in reducing the threat of Somali piracy. However, if the situation is to improve it is important the pirates know the international commitment to stop their activities is real and ongoing.”
He added that another priority should be deterring Somalis from becoming pirates in the first place. “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.”
The report praised the involvement of neighbouring countries such as the Seychelles in conducting piracy trials, and the wider cooperation of China, Russia, India and the African Union. But the committee also called on the Gulf States – with their close links to Somalia and interest in keeping shipping routes clear – to “make a greater effort to assist in solving the problems of piracy”.
The Lords expressed “doubts” about the policy of transferring sentenced pirates back to Somalia, adding that prisons should be staffed by people trained and equipped to prevent breakouts. It said the EU, along with the United Nations, should monitor prisons, and called for a greater focus on rehabilitation for younger prisoners.