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Cablegate: Hong Kong Ship Owners Welcome Pla Troops On

VZCZCXRO2000
PP RUEHCN RUEHGH
DE RUEHHK #0267/01 0430746
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 120746Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL HONG KONG
TO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9618
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHCP/AMEMBASSY COPENHAGEN PRIORITY 0318
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 0773
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUENAAA/SECNAV WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0012
RUCOWCY/COGARD AMR NEW YORK NY PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0038
RULSJGA/COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HONG KONG 000267

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM
STATE ALSO FOR PM/PPA
TREASURY FOR OFAC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHSA ATRN EWWT PREL KPIR KCRM IMO DA UK BA
SO, CH, HK
SUBJECT: HONG KONG SHIP OWNERS WELCOME PLA TROOPS ON
MERCHANT SHIPS; WORRY ABOUT RANSOM BAN

REF: 09 HONG KONG 2136

1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND ACTION REQUEST: China's People's
Liberation Army (PLA) Navy forces currently deployed in the
waters off East Africa to counter Somali maritime pirate
attacks have reportedly offered troops to merchant ships from
China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The Hong Kong Ship Owners
Association (HKSOA) has welcomed this initiative but remains
opposed to the use of civilian armed guards. Separately,
HKSOA has joined the London-based International Chamber of
Shipping (ICS) in raising concerns over a rumored U.S. ban on
ransom payments. Post would appreciate any information on
this rumored ban. Paragraph 7 contains ICS' recent letter on
this matter. END SUMMARY AND ACTION REQUEST

2. (SBU) During a February 10 meeting with EconOff, HKSOA
Managing Director Arthur Bowring shared that PLA naval
warships on counter-piracy operations off the Somali Coast
have been routinely offering up special forces units to serve
aboard commercial ships from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
PLA officers and the ship's captain would make arrangements
on site, whereby troops could be stationed aboard more
vulnerable ships during runs through the Gulf of Aden (GOA)
and the Somali Basin (SB). Bowring knew neither the number
nor the flag-state of the vessels that had allowed Chinese
troops aboard. He added that the industry welcomed this type
of military initiative, and it was not unique to the PLA.
Other international naval forces in the region offered
similar support to merchant ships from their flag-states, he
confirmed.

3. (SBU) While the industry supported military deployments to
protect cargo ships, Bowring reiterated HKSOA's strong
opposition to the employment of armed private security guards
to protect commercial shipping. Civilian guards would only
lead to unnecessary escalation of violence on both sides, as
civilian "mercenaries" were not bound by UN-style rules of
engagement, he said.

4. (SBU) As a representative for some of the region's largest
ship owners and ship management companies, Bowring said the
HKSOA regularly received business proposals from private
individuals and security firms eager to take the fight to the
pirates, for a profit. The HKSOA did not endorse these
proposals but instead encouraged the use of industry's Best
Management Practices (BMP) to deter piracy (reftel).
However, "the HKSOA cannot forbid ship owners from doing what
they deemed best," Bowring recognized. (Note: Hong Kong's
strict statutory controls on firearms' registration and
licensing extend over its shipping registry. This constrains
the decision for a civilian guard force on Hong Kong-flagged
vessels. End Note.)

5. (SBU) Bowring lamented that the international community's
reluctance to respond more decisively to piracy in the GOA
and SB could potentially encourage hijacking and kidnapping
elsewhere. Attacks had already been reported almost 1,000
nautical miles from the coast of Somalia, and pirates
continued to develop new tactics, now launching smaller
attack skiffs from larger mother ships on the high seas. The
protection of sea trade from piracy was a clear and
legitimate responsibility for governments under the UN
Convention on the Law of the Sea. It was particularly
upsetting when the main focus of some senior politicians
seemed limited to objections to ransom payments, he added.

Potential U.S. Ban on Payment of Ransoms to Pirates
--------------------------------------------- ------

6. (SBU) Ship owners were highly concerned over rumors that
the U.S. government was contemplating prohibiting ransom
payments to pirates, Bowring said. Specifically, in addition
to banning ransom payments, the measure would also impose

HONG KONG 00000267 002 OF 003


sanctions on companies that violated the ruling, including
non-U.S. companies. Bowring stated this would do little to
safeguard sea trade and seafarers' well-being. He shared a
February 3 letter from the International Chamber of Shipping
to the Chairman of the Consultative Shipping Group that
expressed these concerns:

7. (U) Begin Text:

From:
Mr. Simon Bennett
Secretary, International Chamber of Shipping
12 Carthusian Street London EC1M 6EZ
Tel 44 20 7417 8844 Fax 44 20 7417 8877
ics@marisec.org www. marisec.org www.shippingfacts.com

To:
Mr. Andreas Nordseth
Chairman, Consultative Shipping Group
C/O Danish Maritime Authority
Versmundsgade 38C DK-2100 Copenhagen

At the request of the ICS Executive Committee, which met this
week, we are contacting you, in your capacity as CSG
Chairman, on a most serious matter of great concern to our
member national shipowners' associations. This relates to
reports that the United States may be considering some kind
of ban on the payment of ransoms for the release of seafarers
held hostage by Somali pirates. Moreover, it is understood
that any such ban might apply to non-US companies and that
penalties could be imposed when the ship of a company, that
is known to have paid a ransom, visits a US port, or by
applying sanctions against a shipping company's offices in
the US.

We understand the mechanism for doing this would be the
Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) which, we are
informed, amended its regulations last November, possibly
(though we cannot confirm this) with such an action in mind.
While exact information about who might be driving any
decision about a ban is hard to come by, we believe it is
being led by the State Department. (The OFAC regulations
apparently require decisions to be made by the Secretary of
State in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security
and the Attorney General.)

Our first request is that, through the Cotton Club, and as
matter of some urgency, the CSG collects any information it
can about the truth behind any proposal for a ban, and the
likely timing of any such decision, in order that we can
determine how collectively we might resist it.

Our second request is that Cotton Club members might be
encouraged to begin raising the concerns of the international
community to officials in the relevant departments, and that
this topic should be a subject of discussion at the next CSG
meeting in Korea.

While the shipping industry will develop its arguments
depending on the detail of whatever may be eventually
proposed by the United States, in the first instance we wish
to raise the following serious concerns about any potential
ban on ransom payments:

- The first is humanitarian. What else are shipowners meant
to do when the seafarers they employ, and to whom they have a
duty of care, are taken hostage, often for months at a time,
in appalling conditions, with their lives at serious risk,
and with no hope of rescue by their governments?

- If such a ban were implemented, what would happen to those
seafarers who are currently being held hostage (typically, at
any one time, about 250 seafarers are being held by pirates)?

HONG KONG 00000267 003 OF 003

- If such a ban were implemented, it has to be understood the
likely result would be that the majority of shipowners would
avoid the Gulf of Aden, the Suez Canal and north west Indian
Ocean altogether (most large ships would divert around the
Cape of Good Hope). Many ships' crews would also be likely
to refuse to sail in the danger area (which covers well over
a million square miles). This would clearly have a
significant affect on the flow of a large proportion of
international trade, and send a signal to the effect that the
international community has been unable to prevent the
creation by the pirates of a huge 'no go' area in a region of
great strategic importance.

- Finally, it is worth reiterating that there is absolutely
no evidence (so far as we are aware) of any links between the
pirates, who are criminal opportunists, and terrorism.

Your assistance in finding out more and taking up our
concerns on this most serious matter will be very much
appreciated.

End text.

MARUT

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