Piracy, armed robbery declining in Gulf of Guinea, but enhanced national, regional efforts needed for stable maritime security, top official tells Security Council

Although the Gulf of Guinea has witnessed a steady decline in incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea, more needs to be done to fully operationalize the maritime security architecture, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as speakers called for renewed action to tackle the root causes of piracy.

Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, presenting the Secretary-General’s report (document S/2022/818) on the situation of piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, said such incidents have continued to decrease during the reporting period. The steady decline resulted from concerted efforts by national authorities, with the support of regional and international partners; regular deployment of naval assets by international partners; and piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo in 2021, among others. However, piracy in the Gulf has also morphed during the past decade, she observed, adding that the aforementioned decline might be attributable to a shift by criminal networks to other crimes, such as oil bunkering and theft.

She urged States in the Gulf of Guinea region, alongside the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission, to step up efforts to establish a stable maritime environment, including through the full operationalization of the maritime security architecture as laid out in the Yaoundé Code of Conduct in 2013. However, she also noted that the Yaoundé Code of Conduct has faced challenges, including the lack of sustainable financing. Its forthcoming tenth anniversary will provide an opportunity to assess its implementation and set out a strategic roadmap for the next decade, she noted, adding that the Council’s support for this process will be invaluable.

Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), commended the Council for adopting resolution 2634 (2022). The threat of piracy has cost the region lives, stability, and over $1.9 billion in financial losses every year. The substantial decrease in piracy incidents and victims in the Gulf of Guinea this year, particularly for kidnapping for ransom, is a welcome result of many years of work, including in the context of the Yaoundé Maritime Security Architecture. While outlining efforts to this end, including through the first-ever piracy convictions in the region, in Nigeria and Togo, she cautioned: “It is yet too soon to declare victory. We need to instead capitalize on the momentum and create a sustainable framework to protect the Gulf of Guinea from pirate groups and any criminal activity they may engage in.”

Florentina Adenike Ukonga, Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, said that the adoption of resolutions 2018 (2011) and 2039 (2012), combined with the political will of regional Governments to take responsibility for securing the maritime domain of coastal States and better funding for regional States’ navies and maritime security agencies, to name a few, have led to a considerable decrease in acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea region. “It is not, however, time to rest on our oars,” she emphasized. Other crimes are ongoing in the region, which, while not having such visible effects on international maritime trade, have a greater impact on the well-being of coastal populations and the economic well-being of regional Governments.

Nura Abdullahi Yakubu, Maritime Planning Officer, Political Affairs Peace, and Security Department of the African Union, also pointed out that although the Gulf of Guinea may be considered the lynchpin for the success of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, it has also been labelled as the world’s “hotspot” for maritime crimes, in part due to the absence or weak legal frameworks to prosecute maritime offenders. Spotlighting efforts to secure the region by the African Union, in cooperation with regional and subregional bodies, he underlined the importance of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and its key pillars of information sharing, interdiction, prosecution, and victim support. Highlighting the importance of effective maritime information sharing, which led to the successful interception of the hijackers of the tankers Maximus and Hai Lu Feng, he also called for more joint training and exercises to improve maritime safety in the region.

Speakers throughout the meeting emphasized the need for a comprehensive response to security challenges in the Gulf of Guinea, including policies to tackle root causes of the drivers of piracy. Many speakers welcomed the decline in piracy and robbery incidents during the reporting period, as a consequence of enhanced coordination between international, regional and national efforts, with several underscoring the need to boost such cooperation through increased technical and financial support for the Yaoundé Architecture.

The representative of Gabon called on the Security Council to strengthen technical capacity and financial support for ECCAS and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member States, pointing out that for some years now, her country has suffered from acts of piracy such as kidnappings for ransom — sometimes with fatal results. “This is the price required,” she stressed, for an effective response to the threat of piracy in the economic and regional communities of the Gulf of Guinea. The direct links between climate and security are clearly visible in Africa, she said, pointing to the recruitment of coastal communities’ local populations by networks of pirates and terrorists as a consequence of decreased means of subsidence due to the climate crisis and pollution from oil and gas extraction.

Ghana’s delegate, Council President for November, spoke in his national capacity, noting that, despite the decrease in maritime crimes, the implementation of crucial institutional frameworks, such as the Yaoundé Architecture, is hampered by operational, logistical, funding, technical and capacity-building gaps. Maritime security strategies should adhere to a multidimensional, whole-of-society approach to address underlying drivers of piracy, including poverty, unemployment, and inadequate access to public services, he said.

In a similar vein, the representative of Kenya also called for a comprehensive approach to tackling the root causes of maritime insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, adding: “It is not enough to support coastal countries to patrol their sea waters against piracy. These countries need to be supported to invest in safe and sustainable blue economy to tackle poverty and underdevelopment.” Citing his country’s experience in dealing with maritime piracy off Somalia and elsewhere, he said it is vital that the necessary national and legal frameworks are in place for the effective prosecution of those who are directly and indirectly involved in piracy.

The United States’ representative was among several speakers who emphasized the need to ensure the requisite legal frameworks are in place to prosecute those involved in piracy. Less than one third of Gulf of Guinea States have enacted legislation to criminalize piracy as set out in the Convention on the Law of the Sea, he pointed out. Highlighting his country’s support for maritime security, he said United States naval forces in Africa are conducting training throughout the Gulf of Guinea with partners and allies.

The delegate of Nigeria said that his country has invested over $195 million to establish the Deep Blue Project, which includes maritime security platforms that facilitate rapid response to piracy, kidnapping, oil theft, smuggling, trafficking of drugs and persons and other crimes within Nigeria’s territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone. Underlining the importance of reinforcing the sovereignty of national waters and protecting a vital food source for the population, he said that enhanced naval capacity and presence will help address the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region. He called on international partners’ technical and material assistance to help States address such crimes and develop sustainable blue economies.

For her part, Germany’s delegate, speaking as a co-chair of the Group of Seven Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea, said that, since the group’s last plenary meeting in Berlin in July, it agreed to contribute to the implementation of resolution 2534 (2022) and will continue discussions in that regard during its meeting in Abidjan next week. She went on to highlight the Multinational Maritime Coordination Centre in Cabo Verde as a recent and important milestone in joint efforts and in the network of sub-regional coordination and information sharing centres.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, cited the enormous costs of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, totalling $1.9 billion per year. In addition, the enormous cost of illegal, underreported and unregulated fishing, amounting to $1.6 billion per year, must be considered, he added. In the face of such challenges, he called for a hands-on security approach, as well as efforts to tackle the root causes of piracy on land. Spotlighting a strategy to this end, adopted by the European Union for the Gulf of Guinea in 2014, he said that such efforts are bolstered by the 2021 launch of the Coordinated Maritime Presences in the Gulf of Guinea, guaranteeing the naval presence of at least one European Union member State in the region at any time.

Source: UN Security Council

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