Today's WTF? story; a tale of military uselessness in the face of overwhelming Political Correctness.
Suspected Somali pirates captured by the Royal Navy are being given fuel, food and water and sent on their way.
In three cases they were released even though hostages had been found on board their vessels.
The extraordinary revelations yesterday by Defence Minister Baroness Taylor will add to concern about the role of the Navy in tackling piracy.
Hands up: Royal marines board a suspected pirate vessel off Somalia last June - the gang were later released
In November it emerged that a Navy ship had stood by as pirates kidnapped British sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler. They are still being held and threatened with death by their captors.
Baroness Taylor said there had been four instances in the last year when heavily armed gangs operating off Somalia had been given supplies on humanitarian grounds. None of the 66 suspects captured by the Navy in the last year have been taken into custody.
One former Navy commander said the Navy appeared to be operating a 'maritime welfare system' rather than enforcing law on the high seas.
Mike Critchley, publisher of Warship World magazine, said: 'I feel pretty sorry for Navy officers these days who have to phone a lawyer in London before they are allowed to do anything.
'In the old days the captain would have been told to just go and sort it out.
Hostage: Rachel Chandler and husband Paul are still being held and threatened with death by their captors
'I am sure that word will soon get round the pirate community that even if you run out of fuel 200 miles off shore a large grey vessel will come and help you on your way.
'If we are going to make a difference then we have to shake a fist at people.'
Former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit, who has tabled a series of Parliamentary questions on the issue, said ministers had indicated privately that suspected pirates were not being arrested because of fears they might claim asylum in the UK.
Lord Tebbit said the Navy appeared to be hamstrung by the 'morass of human rights laws and political correctness'.
He said the release of armed suspects, some of whom were holding hostages, 'illustrates how absurd our laws on immigration and asylum have become'.
In November 2008, sailors on the warship Cumberland arrested eight Somali pirates attempting to hijack a Dutch cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Two more were shot dead in a firefight. The pirates have been sent to Kenya to stand trial.
'Yes, sir. Somali pirates - we stopped them, gave them food and water, explained their human rights...then guess what?'
Lord Tebbit said he had been told the arrests had caused 'panic' at the Foreign Office and Home Office because of fears about legal claims for asylum.
Figures show that since then Navy personnel have boarded a further six suspected pirate ships off Somalia, containing a total of 66 pirates, all of whom were armed.
Weapons seized included rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles, pistols and ammunition. In three cases hostages were found on board and released.
Baroness Taylor, however, said the men were all released as there was 'insufficient evidence' to arrest anyone. In four cases the Navy provided water, fuel and food to the pirates.
She said this was done 'in line with our duty under international law to render assistance to ensure safety of life at sea'.
The Navy insisted officers were not hampered by fears that pirate suspects might seek asylum as it could only be claimed at a 'port of entry'.
A spokesman added: 'The Royal Navy treats suspected pirate encounters seriously and on a case by case basis.
'If there is insufficient evidence, including uncooperative witnesses, to ensure a successful prosecution, then any equipment is destroyed and the suspected pirates released with enough fuel and supplies to allow them to return to land, in accordance with our international legal obligations.'
But Lord Tebbit said the fact the Navy had seized the weapons suggested they had the evidence they needed.
In November it emerged that the crew of RFA Wave Knight had looked on as pirates kidnapped the Chandlers, of Tunbridge Wells, from their yacht near the Seychelles.
The Ministry of Defence initially tried to cover up the ship's role.
But it later admitted it had been on the scene. It said the ship had not opened fire for fear the Chandlers could have been shot.