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I have always regarded Lloyd’s List as hard-packed with hard fact (as about the most expensive newspaper by weight you are likely to find anywhere, it should be). But can this really be true?

British Foreign Office officials are understood to have advised the Royal Navy not to confront or arrest pirates in the region [the horn of Africa] for fear of transgressing human rights legislation or encouraging their seeking asylum once taken to the UK.

If such advice is followed, it seems there is precious little reason left to even have a Royal Navy.

Hat-tip: The Register

36 comments to Implausible?

  • Paul Marks


    In such a case the continued existance of the Royal Navy would be a pointless farce.

  • Did the RN tell the FO to go stuff their advice?

    Wot? Should they ignore slavers as well? You think the RN could ever do that?

  • Ian B

    Oh, I’m quite sure this is true. An essential part of the collapse of a civilisation is the collapse of its military capability. The New Gramscian Hegemony, The Enemy, whatever you wish to call them, are seeing to this by binding the military in so many regulations and rules of engagement &c that despite having, on paper, overwhelming military force, we cannot win wars or even beat a few pirates because we cannot deploy it. Military strength comes from using whatever means necessary to kill the other bastards. Once you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how many blokes in nice uniforms you have, you’re defenseless, or, at least, deprived of any offensive capability. Which is why we can’t even win against a few nutters in tea-towels.

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a few days ago. One of his relatives works as a marine security guard, which is a nice euphemism for machine-gunning Somali pirates. It’s a boom industry, apparently.

  • I too noticed this, and had not quite got round to including it in a second posting for Samizdata containing instances of loss of nerve in our society.

    I’d really, really like to hear from anyone in the know as to whether it is true.

    I don’t find it that hard to believe, unfortunately. If true, like most such diktats it will succeed in promoting two opposite evils at the same time: both (as Ian B described) the flabby, demoralised lack of response to violence that encourages more violence and the abandonment of civilised restraints, as those fighting pirates decide that it is less trouble for them (or their proxies) to simply gun down anyone who looks as if they might be possibly be a pirate.

  • Time to issue a few Letters of Marque. Where is the ghost of Francis Drake when you need him?

  • the other rob

    Ian B wrote:

    Once you can’t do that, it doesn’t matter how many blokes in nice uniforms you have, you’re defenseless, or, at least, deprived of any offensive capability.

    IMHO, the rot set in when we (along with lots of countries, now that I come to think of it – though apparently Mexico and Brazil still maintain War Departments) renamed the of War Office as the Ministry of Defence.

  • This isn’t new news . . . I linked to a TimesOnline article on this back in April ((Link)).

  • permanentexpat

    What was that?

  • It doesn’t specifically rule out riddling them with 30mm oerlikon fire.

  • “… for fear of transgressing human rights legislation or encouraging their seeking asylum once taken to the UK.”

    Of tangential interest: I seem to recall that the captain of HMS Bellerophon had strict orders not to let Napoleon touch British soil for a similar reason.

  • Pa Annoyed

    Here’s the RN’s denial.


    But it sounds so good, who’s going to believe the Royal Navy?

  • K

    The tragedy of this piracy surge is that the navies of the world could erase it with one percent of their resources.

    And it doesn’t get done because a few nations get tired of sending a ship or so while a hundred nations do nothing.

    And if you do contribute a little you will be damned for killing any pirate instead of bringing them to a world court so lawyers can be paid for years to argue their defense.

    Your sailors and ministers may be called war criminals and indicted by uninvolved nations.

    It is so much easier and nicer to believe in magic. The bad guys of the world will respond favorably if we admonish them and explain our displeasure.

  • Midwesterner

    P.A., from your link:

    Under UNCLOS, all States have a duty to cooperate in the repression of piracy. Action to aid a victim vessel under attack by pirates can range from deterring and disrupting the attack to the use of reasonable and proportionate force against the aggressors if the Commanding Officer deems there is an imminent threat to life.

    Note the carefully limiting language, “deterring and disrupting”, “reasonable and proportionate force” and “imminent threat to life”. These constraints along with the UK’s full participation in the International Criminal Court treaty probably means that the Royal Navy has to hand over to the International Criminal Court any personnel charged with a criminal act maybe by any member state of the UN, but at a minimum, by any treaty state. I suspect the compliance enforcement will be, shall we say, ‘asymmetrical’?

    Between UNCLOS and the International Criminal Court treaty, I suspect that a wise captain would avoid awareness of as much as possible. Unfortunately, the report sounds rather plausible. The US is not a party to the treaty but even so has taken measures to protect service members from the court.

  • Maybe that was just for “Speak like a pirate day.” You know, the Navy getting all festive and such…
    Or not.

  • Why then, in the forthcoming Transport Security Bill, is it necessary to create new legal powers:

    Permitting enforcement officers (e.g. members of the Royal Navy):


    to board ships that are suspected of being involved in acts of piracy

    Presumably the Department of Transport’s lawyers do not think that the Royal Navy has the legal power to do this already.

  • Andrew Duffin

    WT-WU, no I think the real reason for that provision being in the Bill is that they need to ensure the various State goons can board private boats to check for terrorists – and, later, for unapproved actions and thoughts – perhaps smoking, drinking, etc. And of course they’ll check everyone’s ID while they’re about it. As the TV licence people say “our visit should only take a few minutes”.

    (And notice that RN personnel are only an example – other examples, in due course, will be various employees and private agents of your local council.)

  • Bruce

    If Jackie Fisher came back today, he would never stop vomiting.

  • The MoD has issued a denial.

  • Pa Annoyed

    “Note the carefully limiting language,…”

    I’d like you all to imagine for a moment that instead of talking about hunting pirates on the high seas, a cutlass between our teeth, we were talking about the police’s domestic stop-and-search powers. On the whole, I’m rather in favour of “proportionate” law enforcement. Also the idea of trying criminals in courts, rather than executing them on the spot.

    Now, if you want to complain about the corruption of the international courts, and the sorry state of “human rights” legislation, I’m all in favour. Judicial matters don’t always work out the way they should, once they pass out of law enforcement’s hands. But nobody has declared a “war on piracy”, and there are rules. “Carefully limiting language” is just what I want, when it comes to well-armed agents of the state.

  • Jim

    “British Foreign Office officials are understood to have advised the Royal Navy not to confront or arrest pirates in the region [the horn of Africa] for fear of transgressing human rights legislation or encouraging their seeking asylum once taken to the UK.”

    Natalie is right; why do these “detainees” have to be taken to the UK. They don’t have to go to the equivalent of Guantanamo, they can go to the equivalent of Tinian, where the INS stashed all the boatloads of eastward-ho Chinese migrants back in ’99 so they couldn’t claim asylum.

    “Also the idea of trying criminals in courts, rather than executing them on the spot.”

    Courts are about as statist a solution as I can think of.

    “But nobody has declared a “war on piracy”, and there are rules.’

    No one does declare war on piracy. It is a standing obligation of treaty signaotries and they should all just issue standing orders. Normal Geneva Convention protections apply – there are none for pirates, so it’s just the normal human rights concerns.

  • Robert Speirs

    Life was so much better in the old days, when no self-respecting pirate would think of marauding without a Jolly Roger on the mast, a cutlass between his teeth and all the while speaking a distinctive and colorful dialect. Being easily recognizable, he could be gunned down without a second thought. And he would never have considered claiming asylum anywhere, especially such a puritanical and namby-pamby place as present-day Britain. Just the expressed thought would get him thrown out of the Pirates’ Club, probably with extreme prejudice.

  • Sunfish


    Here’s another story about piracy.

    Funny, or scary?

    What struck me was, why does a largely-nonexistent state have a “fisheries minister?”

    The problem I see with giving the pirates a trial is, which set of laws are to be used? Most of the acts that fall under the general heading of “piracy” carry the death penalty in the US, both under Federal criminal law and under many (most?) states’ criminal codes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I imagine that this is just as true under the UCMJ as well.

    And once we’ve established what the pirates are charged with, which rules of evidence, rules of procedure, and body of case law is to be used? I did not write or sign any UN treaties. I suspect that I also did not vote for any of the people who did, or the people who appointed the people who did. This makes me question the legitimacy of any such law.[1]

    And even when we get past this point, where do we get the judge?

    [1] Normally, the tendency of libertarians to twist and contort every question of law into a contractual matter irritates me, but this is one of the arenas where I think contract principles apply, at least a little bit.

  • guy herbert


    I feel likewise about the obsession of some doctrinaire libertarians with contract. But not sure you are right here. The old form of international law was pretty adequate on this point, and to the extent they operate within its forms, having states as “high contracting parties” and are effectively enforceable only by continuing common consent of the signatories, then UN treaties are quite as meaningful and legitimate as the Treaty of Utrecht. If you accept your government as legitimate, whatever its form, then I think it is in principle fine for it to act as your agent in agreements with other powers.

    The problems arise elsewhere, when the legitimate pursuit of national interest through compromise is overriden by cartelisation, or by an appeal to superordinate “international principal” that takes territorially-limited state sovereignty out of the picture and creates world or regional government with an independent power-base.

  • Sunfish, I don’t see where the problem is. In the link I posted above, Somali pirates took some French hostages. The French captured the pirates, and took them to France for trial. Would you rather they shot them on the spot?

  • @ Andrew Duffin – before the Commons Leader website description of the Draft Legislative Programme was ineptly stealth edited as per George Orwell’s Animal Farm, it used to say:

    The main beneï¬ts of the maritime security provisions are:

    enabling the UK to fulï¬l an international counter-terrorism obligation;

    helping to combat the illicit transfer of Weapons of Mass Destruction

    and other harmful materials, thus preventing proliferation;

    giving the Royal Navy explicit powers to tackle piracy.

    (see the .pdf version of the Draft Legislative Programme)

    It now only says:

    The main beneï¬ts of the maritime security provisions are:

    enabling the UK to fulï¬l an international counter-terrorism obligat

    The main part of this Transport Security Bill actually seems to be intent on

    requiring the majority of airports in England, Wales & Scotland to agree a local airport security plan with their key stakeholders, based upon an agreed threat and risk analysis;

    Are we actually meant to believe that none of these airports and none of the local Police forces have any Security Plans at the moment ? If not, then why not ?

    The crucial part of this Bill appears to be

    allowing the policing element of this plan to be charged to the airport operator.

    More Police Force Privatisation by stealth ?

    More “security theatre” costs imposed by Department of Transport bureaucrats ?

  • Matthew

    The Brits used to do it well: from Rear Admiral Percy Gick’s obit:

    ….. One of the problems Gick had to deal with in Hong Kong was piracy; junks carrying the vital rice supplies were being hijacked, and their crews murdered.

    Gick was accordingly appointed Staff Officer Anti-Piracy (although when the signal from the Admiralty arrived, it had omitted the word “anti”). With the aid of a well-armed team (including a professor of classics) Gick intercepted the pirates at sea.

    “The drill was quite simply that, when a strange craft came close to us and answered a challenge with a burst of fire, they received about 10 times the amount they could possibly muster,” he recorded later.

    “By the time we got on board most of them were dead or dying; we took the junk back with one or two still alive and saw fit to get them to their homes to spread the rumour that there was not much future in piracy.” In time, the pirates gave up.


    Yo ho ho and all that.

  • Sunfish

    Guy and Alisa,
    Here’s the problem: if a nation did not sign a given treaty, then is it enforceable against that nation or its citizens? I’d say no, speaking as a citizen of a nation that refused to sign the small-arms ban, the ICC, and refused to ratify Kyoto. Meaning: a victim of piracy has every right to engage in self-defense and to use military forces for SD, but not to drag the survivors into the victim nations’ criminal courts. (Yes, I am saying that throwing 3″ shells into pirate hulls, or refusing to accept hostage-takers’ surrender and instead completing the rescue and then sinking them is IMHO on firmer legal ground than the French action.)

    That falls under my having a problem with claims of extraterritorial jurisdiction. (Yes, I know which of the civilized countries is the worst offender. It wasn’t my idea.)

    Now, if Somalia did sign the LoS (or even had a government able to do so) treaty then I’m wrong…

  • Pa Annoyed


    Can an individual “sign” a treaty, even if their government does not? Are people bound by the decisions of their governments, even if those governments are undemocratic and unrepresentative? If you offer pirates the choice of being sunk or standing trial in France, and they freely choose to be bound by French law, (while never having been given a choice over Somali law,) does it not stand?

    On what basis are people bound by a nation’s laws, anyway?

  • Pa stole my question,

    Are people bound by the decisions of their governments, even if those governments are undemocratic and unrepresentative?

    so I stole it back, and modified it to suit me better:-)

    Sunfish, you make a good point for the next time someone screams ‘Guantanamo!’ with a heavy french accent.

  • Sunfish

    Pa and Alisa:

    There aren’t nearly enough insults and personal attacks here. Someone needs to bring up circumcision, quickly.

    But seriously, to Pa’s question: they’re not. A citizen of, say, the PRC, has no real voice in the making of law or setting of public policy in “his” country and therefore IMHO isn’t accountable for it.

    A citizen of the US, and even more so the parts of the US that allow important public policy decisions to be made via direct democracy[1] is a more difficult question: he is and he isn’t. Actually, personally I lean towards “If you were part of making the decision you can be part of living by it,” meaning that the folks who showed up to vote are on the hook for the result of the election.

    Where it gets complicated are the people who refuse to vote and otherwise interact with the state. The honest of these are often called ‘Amish.’ The scam artists are usually called “Posse Commitatus” and “Montana Freemen.” I don’t have an easy answer. I used to, but the personal growth in the post that I wrote and deleted three times in Natalie’s thread makes me not trust easy answers anymore.

    As for a basis for being subject to a given nation’s laws: being within that nation’s territory is most of it. I’m tempted to say ‘all,’ but there’s probably some factor that isn’t coming to mind. For instance, I haven’t been to Canada in several years. If I were to write that the CHRC are a bunch of fascist strokes who should be sold into slavery, and a process server shows up at my door to tell me that I’m being sued for libel in Canada, I’ll probably use those papers for hygienic purposes. And I think it’s a damn disgrace that the US claims authority to penalize US citizens or non-citizen residents for smoking Cuban cigars while in London.

    IMHO, the ability (even unexercised) to affect the making of law is also a factor, morally, but I’d hesitate to open the courtroom door to that argument.

    As for where that leaves US/UK laws on sex tourism I don’t know. That seems to be a matter of making bad laws in order to go after bad people.

    [1] If a ballot initiative process can be used for lawmaking beyond merely setting a tax rate or approving a bond issue, that definitely applies. Welcome to Colorado (or California, or a few other places)

  • I didn’t know that the Amish don’t vote. Do they pay taxes?

  • Sunfish

    I didn’t know that the Amish don’t vote. Do they pay taxes?

    Let me backtrack a little about voting: some do and some don’t.

    As for taxes, I’m going to have to give you a firm and unequivocal ‘I don’t know.’

  • treefroggy

    Asylum would only be an issue for any survivors. This is easily remedied