"[Don't] Detain Pirates Because Doing So May Breach Their Human Rights"?

The Times (London) reports (thanks to Overlawyered for the pointer):

The Royal Navy ... has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights.

Warships patrolling pirate-infested waters, such as those off Somalia, have been warned that there is also a risk that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain.

The Foreign Office has advised that pirates sent back to Somalia could have their human rights breached because, under Islamic law, they face beheading for murder or having a hand chopped off for theft.

In 2005 there were almost 40 attacks by pirates and 16 vessels were hijacked and held for ransom. Employing high-tech weaponry, they kill, steal and hold ships' crews to ransom. This year alone pirates killed three people near the Philippines....

Britain is part of a coalition force that patrols piracy stricken areas and the guidance has troubled navy officers who believe they should have more freedom to intervene....

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "There are issues about human rights and what might happen in these circumstances. The main thing is to ensure any incident is resolved peacefully." ...

Can this possibly be a correct summary of the Foreign Office directive? It's one thing not to return the pirates to Somalia, but it's quite another to instruct the Navy "not to detain" them. (They may, after all, be tried in places other than Somalia.) Can anyone point me to a more complete summary of the situation, or to the text of the Foreign Office directive? If the story is reasonably accurate, then this is just appalling.

Also, can it really be the case that "[t]he main thing is to ensure any incident is resolved peacefully"? I would think that the main thing should be to minimize harm caused by this incident and the others that are likely to follow. If resolving each incident as peacefully as possible leads to an increase in the number of incidents (some of which will inevitably not be resolved peacefully, and all of which will involve robbery, kidnapping, and other harms even if they don't lead to death or serious injury), and modestly increasing the risk of violence in any particular case will help kill off some pirates, capture others, and deter still more for future cases, then the "resolve[] peacefully" principle may do more harm than good.

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  2. "[Don't] Detain Pirates Because Doing So May Breach Their Human Rights"?
"Captain Kidd, Human-Rights Victim":

John Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas, has more on Britain's new approach to piracy.

On April 11, French commandos went in with guns blazing and captured a gang of pirates who days earlier had hijacked a luxury cruise ship, the Ponant, and held the crew for ransom. This was the French solution to a crime wave that has threatened international shipping off Somalia; those of us who have been on the business end of a pirate's gun can only applaud their action.

The British government on the other hand, to the incredulity of many in the maritime industry, has taken a curiously pathetic approach to piracy. While the French were flying six of the captured pirates to Paris to face trial, the British Foreign Office issued a directive to the once vaunted Royal Navy not to detain any pirates, because doing so could violate their human rights. British warships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia were advised that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain and that those who were returned to Somalia faced beheading for murder or a hand chopped off for theft under Islamic law.

According to Burnett, Britain's approach is not so popular (at least not with those threatened by pirates.

The British fear of breaching the human rights of pirates has not gone down well in the maritime community. Andrew Linington, the spokesman for Nautilus, a British-Dutch seafarers trade union, has called the Foreign Office's policy "a get out of jail card" for pirates.

"We despair," Mr. Linington told me. "We are meant to be a major maritime country. The U.K. is heavily dependent on maritime trade — 95 percent of trade comes and goes by sea. Yet the Foreign Office has its head in the sand. It is just wishing the problem would go away."

The British attitude has come a long way since the days when pirates were chained to pilings at Wapping and left there until the tidal water of the Thames ebbed and flowed over the bodies three times. So much for Britannia ruling the waves.