|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
6633rd Meeting (AM)
Security Council Members, Meeting on Growing Piracy Problem in Gulf of Guinea,
Welcome Secretary-General’s Plan to Send Assessment Mission to Region
Affected Countries Say International Help Needed in Efforts to Deal with Situation
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the deployment of an assessment mission to the Gulf of Guinea region in order examine the scope of the increasing threat of piracy in the Gulf, and to make recommendations on anti-piracy, including in the broader context of organized crime and drug trafficking.
Addressing a meeting of the Security Council, he said there was an increase in reported cases of piracy and armed robbery aboard vessels along the West Africa coast. The threat was compounded because the Gulf of Guinea States had limited capacity to ensure safe maritime trade, freedom of navigation, the protection of marine resources and the safety and security of lives and property.
“Piracy transcends national boundaries and economic interests,” the Secretary-General said. It had a negative impact on West Africa’s trade with the rest of the world. “As we have learned from our experience in Somalia,” he said, “we must approach the issue in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on security, the rule of law and development. Responses that fall short of these requirements will only exacerbate the problem.”
Briefing the Council, Florentina Adenike Ukonga, Deputy Executive Secretary for Political Affairs, Gulf of Guinea Commission, drew attention to the fact that the region was an important shipping hub as well as a source of hydrocarbon fuels, both critical to the economies of the countries on the Gulf, as well as to the landlocked countries that depended on coastal access. Piracy, if not checked, could have massive regional and international consequences. She therefore called on the international community to cooperate with her Commission and other regional and sub-regional organizations. As the resources required to confront the scourge were clearly beyond the reach of any one country from the region, she called for a region-wide approach. International support was needed for technical expertise and equipment in the areas of monitoring and security.
General Mahamane Touré, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reported on the many key initiatives in the region to tackle the problem of piracy. He said more was needed, however, including further international attention, recognition and support, in the same way that piracy off the coast of Somalia had mobilized the international community. He asked for a resolution that took into account a wider geographical area, including inland countries in the region, as well as wider criminal acts, such as organized crime, illegal trafficking and illegal dumping at sea.
Speaking on behalf of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, the representative of Benin called on the Council to establish a clear mandate for all stakeholders to support the determination of regional Governments to take decisive measures both individually and collectively in anti-piracy efforts. “The adoption of such a resolution would be a strong signal to the pirates that the international community always remains united and strong in the fight against transboundary organized crime and terror wherever it occurs,” he said.
He affirmed that if left unaddressed the situation could seriously jeopardize tremendous investments made by the international community toward peace and development in the region. The emergence of a zone of lawlessness in the region could not be tolerated, “breeding all kinds of illicit activities including smuggling of illegal immigrants, human trafficking and the trade in small arms and light weapons”.
Speaking in her national capacity, the President of the Security Council, U. Joy Ogwu (Nigeria), said the challenges of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea were daunting, as piracy threatened the security and stability of coastal countries. Perpetrators were motivated by oil, as well as by the smuggling of drugs and light weapons. Nigeria was already working bilaterally and multilaterally to find solutions, among other things through joint maritime patrols with Benin in their territorial waters in order to deter piracy. She said the problem could not be resolved by two nations alone; it was a collective responsibility. The Council should therefore lend its support to regional actions, including through adoption of a draft resolution.
Calling piracy in the Gulf of Guinea a threat to international peace and security in the region, other speakers welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to send an assessment mission, which should generate proposals for the international community to assist countries along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea and regional organizations through, among other things, technical assistance and support for capacity-building. They stressed that such assistance should respect the sovereignty and ownership of the countries in the region, underlining the fact that those countries had the primary responsibility to provide for maritime security in their waters.
Several speakers called for a holistic approach that would not only take into account maritime security, but also address the roots causes of piracy, which often included poverty and lack of opportunities for young people. Although some speakers noted that the problem of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was different from that of piracy off the coast of Somalia, others maintained that lessons learned from the Horn of Africa should be included in a comprehensive strategy to address the problem, including in the areas of information sharing and technical assistance.
The representatives of United States, United Kingdom and France described the assistance their countries — and the European Union— were already rendering in the efforts of States and regional organizations to address the problem, including through training, the provision of resources and expertise to improve local capacity for maritime security, and funds for maritime security sector reform.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Brazil, Russian Federation, Portugal, Colombia, China, India, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, Lebanon and Gabon.
The meeting started at 10:10 a.m. and adjourned at 12:15 p.m.
The Security Council had before it a concept note on Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, conveyed as an annex to the letter dated 17 October 2011 from the Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General. It states that piracy in the vast West African body of water is not only occurring with increasing frequency, but is also becoming more violent, and attacks that were once confined to the coast now range beyond the Gulf’s confines.
The Nigerian Maritime Security Task Force documented 293 incidents of robbery at sea and other pirate attacks from 2003 to 2008 on fishing vessels alone, and under-reporting is strongly suspected. The cost of piracy on local economies is staggering, the note continues, with an estimated loss of $2 billion from offshore oil, fishing and shipping, and future growth is at risk.
The note further states that a regional strategy to fight piracy, with targeted international support, is urgently needed. Such a strategy should offer direction for coastal surveillance, patrolling exclusive economic zones and enforcing international treaties and conventions like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The strategy must be underpinned by focused investment in manpower and resources, cooperation and coordination of efforts. Maintaining that the role of the United Nations, with which a framework for combating piracy has already been developed, will be pivotal to the success of these efforts, the note states that the Secretary-General is planning to deploy an assessment mission to Benin in November to explore options for the Organization’s support.
Statement by Secretary-General
United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said the threat of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea had continued to grow with new cases of piracy and armed robbery aboard vessels along the West Africa coast regularly reported. The threat was compounded because the Gulf of Guinea States had limited capacity to ensure safe maritime trade, freedom of navigation, the protection of marine resources and the safety and security of lives and property. In their statements to the General Assembly, a number of Heads of State had highlighted the need for a concerted regional and international response.
The Secretary-General said that recently, Benin and Nigeria had launched joint patrols to secure the waters off Benin. Similarly, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe had launched a joint strategy to secure the vital interests of members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States had taken initiatives to coordinate regional responses. He urged the two regional organizations to work together to develop a comprehensive, integrated strategy, in close cooperation with the Gulf of Guinea Commission and the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa, building on the existing Memorandum of Understanding on maritime law enforcement developed by the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with the support of other United Nations agencies.
He said he had decided to deploy an assessment mission to the region in November, which would examine the scope of the threat, as well as the capacity of Benin and of the West Africa subregion to ensure maritime security and security in the Gulf of Guinea. It would also make recommendations on anti-piracy, including in the broader context of organized crime and drug trafficking.
“Piracy transcends national boundaries and economic interests,” the Secretary-General said. It had a negative impact on West Africa’s trade with the rest of the world. The recent deployment of naval vessels to support anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Guinea attested to the readiness of the region’s States and their partners to address that threat. He called upon other Member States to join those efforts.
“As we have learned from our experience in Somalia,” he said, “we must approach the issue in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on security, the rule of law and development. Responses that fall short of these requirements will only exacerbate the problem”.
GENERAL MAHAMANE TOURÉ, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security of the Economic Community of West African States, reported on key initiatives in the region to tackle the problem of piracy. He said the Subcommittee on Maritime Security of ECOWAS had been expanded to include many other countries of the region and was working actively on providing recommendations, and a regional maritime governance concept was being developed in line with African Union recommendations on the matter. Many other regional organizations had participated in further meetings, providing agreements to share best practices and an operational framework plan, among other documents, which were being shared with all stakeholders for input and ownership. Other partners such as developed countries were also active, providing funding and information-sharing.
However, more was needed, including further international attention, recognition and support, in the same way that piracy off the coast of Somalia had mobilized the international community. A resolution was needed that took into account a wider geographical area, including inland countries in the region, as well as wider criminal acts, such as organized crime, illegal trafficking and illegal dumping at sea.
FLORENTINA ADENIKE UKONGA, Deputy Executive Secretary for Political Affairs, Gulf of Guinea Commission, hoped that today’s meeting would result in an effective collaboration between the Security Council and the region. Recounting the history of the Commission and its Treaty, she said it aimed for cooperation in security, exploitation of resources and creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development in the region. The region was an important shipping hub as well as a source of hydrocarbon fuels, and it encompassed facilities that were the result of enormous investment, along with important ports. Both kinds of facilities were critical to the economies of the countries on the Gulf, as well as the landlocked countries that depended on coastal access. The Gulf was also an important route to other regions. Piracy, if not checked, could have massive regional and international consequences.
She called for international cooperation with her Commission and other regional and subregional organizations to prevent those consequences. She pledged that her Commission was open to working with synergy with all other partners. It was critical to harmonize anti-piracy laws in all the countries in the region, and the Commission was active in that area. She stressed the need for international cooperation because the resources required were clearly beyond the reach of any one country from the region. In addition, a region-wide approach was needed because a narrow approach would just move the problem to other areas. Technical expertise and equipment were also required, for monitoring and security. A comprehensive and coordinated approach was needed, that fought all illegal maritime and trafficking challenges in the region.
GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea had taken on worrisome dimensions. The threats included trafficking, illegal fishing and an increase in hostage taking. It threatened growth and development of the States along the Gulf’s coast. The attacks could not be compared to the situation along the coast of Somalia. The countries in the region had the primary responsibility to provide maritime security. A framework of cooperation among States and regional organizations should be established. He supported in that regard the proposal of Benin to organize a regional meeting on the topic and welcomed the initiatives of ECOWAS and ECCAS. He called for better harmonization in the national legislations of the Gulf countries.
Welcoming the Secretary-General’s intention to send an assessment mission, he said the international community could still improve its support for regional initiatives. The European Union and France had spared no efforts to assist in the fight. The French Navy was extending support through training. France had also implemented a programme for solidarity funds for security sector reform in the maritime area. The European Union was also active in training, as well as in information sharing. Actions should be based on sovereignty and national ownership of the countries in the region, and respect for the law of the sea.
MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil) said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was a matter of concern as it impacted on trade and economic activities in one of the world’s emerging trade hubs. Issues such as transnational organized crime compounded the problems of post-conflict countries in the region. Efforts in the fight against piracy must therefore be carried out with a view to bringing stability to the region as a whole. Emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation, she said dialogue between United Nations agencies and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) could also help intensify counter-piracy efforts.
A coordinated response should take into account the specificity of West African States and should address the root causes, she said. Acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea were often a manifestation of economic hardship. The adoption of a comprehensive strategy must therefore also take into account political and socio-economic factors. Referring to the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic, she said her country shared the same ocean as the coastal countries of the Gulf of Guinea and supported their rights to exploit their national maritime resources, including fisheries.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) expressed serious concern at the upsurge of crime at sea off the west coast of Africa, some of which directly affected Russian citizens. There had been such crime in the past, but the increase in scale was showing evidence of organized crime, with large-scale robberies being carried out. There were also possible links to other crimes such as illicit drug trafficking. In response, Coast Guard services and other relevant capacities of the region must be enhanced, with significant international support. He welcomed practical measures already being taken in the region to fight piracy and to increase cooperation in the effort. A combined anti-piracy strategy was needed. He pledged to provide assistance in that context, based on his country’s own experience in the area.
JOÃO MARIA CABRAL (Portugal) said that international cooperation and information sharing was critical for fighting the scourge of piracy, so today’s meeting was welcome. He also welcomed the development of a regional strategy based on the efforts of regional bodies. The efforts of all such organizations must be coordinated effectively and the United Nations could have an important role in merging their strategies. Best practices could be shared along with the expertise of agencies such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In addition, a United Nations assessment mission was welcome, particularly because of the fear that much piracy went unreported in the region.
NÉSTOR OSORIO (Colombia) said the situation of increased piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which affected maritime security and trade, called for a detailed analysis of the best ways the international community could assist the countries along the Gulf to carry out their sovereign responsibilities. Detailed information was necessary regarding the scope of the problem as well as of the needs of Governments and regional organizations to respond to the situation. Such an analysis would allow the international community to participate in activities that channelled assistance to the priorities identified by the countries in the area.
He said that leadership and the principal roles in the fight against piracy should remain in the hands of the States concerned. The international community must increase its technical assistance in capacity-building on a national and regional scale. The United Nations, through the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa and International Maritime Organization, must work with subregional organizations to improve capacity-building, in particular regarding information sharing and technical assistance for programmes aimed at harmonizing national legislations.
WANG MIN ( China) said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was a threat to international peace and security in the region. Regional organizations and the international community must therefore take timely measures to combat the problem, including through addressing the root causes. The international community must adopt an integrated strategy to effectively maintain peace and stability in the countries in the region, as well as deal with the region’s economic problems.
He said the coastal States and the subregional organizations must step up their coordination in order to establish a regional strategy to combat piracy. He called on the international community to give support to coastal States and regional organizations through information sharing and technical assistance, and he welcomed the Secretary-General’s decision to send a fact-finding mission to the region.
DUSHYANT SINGH ( India) said piracy off both coasts of Africa had become a serious obstacle to the region’s developmental aspirations. The increasing attacks on shipping vessels off the western coast, particularly the Gulf of Guinea, were affecting the oil industry in the region that comprised Nigeria, Angola and Equatorial Guinea, the largest producers of oil in Sub-Saharan Africa. This compounded other problems in the region, such as the illegal narcotics trade and the proliferation of small arms. He said India had been at the forefront of highlighting the menace of piracy off the coast of Somalia and of stressing the urgent need for the international community to work towards a comprehensive counter-piracy strategy.
India was also concerned about a new surge in piracy and maritime robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, he said, and while the two situations were so far different in proportion, it was quite possible that the failure of the international community to act decisively against piracy off the coast of Somalia could have spawned a new surge in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Unemployed youth were becoming attracted to piracy and maritime robbery, which they found involved low cost and risk and yielded high returns. The societal issues of poverty, unemployment, political instability, lack of appropriate naval infrastructure, and weak prosecution were not helping counter-piracy efforts. The incidents had escalated from low-level armed robberies to hijacking, cargo thefts and large-scale robberies, with growing use of torture and other forms of physical violence and abuse against sailors and crew. It was time that proper attention was given to the problem, and he was happy to note that countries in the region had started making efforts collectively to address it.
MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said the threat posed by piracy in the Gulf of Guinea deserved the Council’s attention, given its expanding severity and geographical scope. It clearly required a coordinated regional and international approach, including combined action by law enforcement agencies. Today’s meeting was an opportunity to see how the international community could further support regional efforts, which should be carried out through regional bodies to elicit the greatest possible synergy. Although piracy off East Africa was different from that in the Gulf of Guinea in many ways, experiences from counter-piracy efforts there should be applied when relevant. He pledged that his country would continue to provide regional maritime security support, on its own and through European Union initiatives. However, the first step, he stressed, must come from the regional countries working more closely together. He was ready to support a Council resolution supporting that regional approach.
BASO SANGQU ( South Africa) also expressed concern over the growing threat and commended efforts already undertaken by the regional States. More needed to be done and international support must be increased, he said. The countries of the region needed resources and expertise for their efforts, and he called on other States and organizations to step up to provide for those needs. In that light, he welcomed the assessment mission proposed by the Secretary-General. He also welcomed the planned summit among countries of the region, as well as other cooperation mechanisms being discussed among members of ECOWAS. He underlined the importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea in bringing about the right legal climate to fight piracy.
IVAN BARBALIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said the problem of piracy was a serious threat to peace and security in West Africa, as well as to the stability and economic development of the States in the region. He welcomed the plan for a summit in the region to address the problem, and he underlined the importance of international assistance. The international community should support efforts of States and regional organizations in capacity-building, using lessons learned from Somalia. Root causes must be addressed, including those of poverty and the lack of opportunities for young people. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to send a fact-finding mission. Drawing attention to the linkage between piracy, organized crime and drug trafficking, he underlined the importance of a comprehensive strategy.
PETER WITTIG ( Germany) said piracy in the Gulf of Guinea was affecting economic development in the region. Coordinated action was needed to address the problem similar to the actions taken in the Horn of Africa, including in the areas of information sharing and technical assistance. Regional organizations had a vital role to play as well. Current European Union projects aimed at capacity support for those organizations.
He said a dual approach was needed. First, the maritime security capacities of the States in the Gulf should be strengthened. Second, a holistic concept on maritime security should be developed, taking into account, among other things, prevention and the legal framework for combating piracy, keeping in mind the lessons learned from Somalia. The rule of law should be ensured, which called for effective security forces and institutions. He welcomed the Secretary-General’s initiative to send a fact-finding mission as a basis for action to be taken by the international community. He encouraged enhanced coordination and information sharing in order to improve the effectiveness of the different efforts.
SUSAN RICE (United States), calling the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea “alarming” and a threat to the socio-economic well-being of the region, said there were important differences between the problem off the coast of Somalia. In the Gulf of Guinea, the focus was on robbing cargo and valuables, as distinct from the hostage-and ransom-taking off the coast of East Africa. The primary responsibility for combating that activity rested with regional countries, but the international community must do more to support regional and international efforts. Her country was supporting ECOWAS and other organizations to increase coordination, and was providing resources and expertise to improve local capacity for maritime security. Additional insight and information was needed; she welcomed the Secretary-General’s proposal for an assessment mission for that purpose. “Now was the time for the States of the region, with the close support of the international community, to address this problem effectively,” she concluded.
NAWAF SALAM ( Lebanon) condemned the acts of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, calling for a strong response at all levels. Countries of the region must be supported in their efforts to eliminate piracy; and domestic and international law against piracy must be harmonized. He welcomed joint patrols by countries in the region as well as other cooperation and called them to step up their coordination. Region-wide planning and a joint protection force should also be encouraged. He thanked the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for the support it had provided and called for the Council to provide further support to the countries in the region. He welcomed the proposal of the Secretary-General to deploy an assessment mission. As was true in East Africa, however, security efforts to end piracy must be combined with efforts to improve the economic and social conditions in the region and to fight poverty and unemployment. Capacity-building for Governments and forces in the region were also necessary to allow them to better control their waters for the benefit of their people.
ALFRED MOUNGARA MOUSSOTSI (Gabon) said the region had the two-fold advantage of being rich in oil resources and fisheries as well as being a geo-political and geo-strategic area of great importance. He welcomed the upcoming summit in the region to address the increasing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, and expressed support for the Secretary-General’s initiative to send an assessment mission to explore a future role of the United Nations. At the regional level, he supported inter-State cooperation in the fight, including in strengthening their legal tools.
Underlining the importance of regional cooperation, he noted the efforts made by ECCAS and ECOWAS as well as agreements reached on joint surveillance. He supported the idea by which the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa and United Nations Office for West Africa should cooperate closely. Regional cooperation had already led to results, but it could be strengthened in the areas of training and information exchange, among other things. The conventional mechanisms to address the problem did not take into account all of the specific features of piracy in the area. National and regional measures to combat piracy should therefore be strengthened. He proposed the drafting and adoption of an international instrument against piracy.
Speaking in her national capacity, the President of the Security Council, U. JOY OGWU (Nigeria), said the challenges of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea were daunting, with devastating consequences for countries in the subregion. Piracy threatened the security and stability of coastal countries. Perpetrators were motivated by oil, as well as by the smuggling of drugs and light weapons. In convening the meeting, she said she wanted to build on the momentum generated by the presidential statement of 30 August, and to underpin the resolve of the international community to tackle the problem. Nigeria was already working bilaterally and multilaterally to find solutions, among other things through joint maritime patrols with Benin in their territorial waters in order to deter piracy.
She said the problem could not be resolved by two nations alone; it was a collective responsibility. She therefore looked forward to the regional summit and hoped it would devise a comprehensive strategy. She called on the international community to support ongoing regional efforts. States in the region were willing to form strategic and lasting partnerships with international stakeholders to build capacity. Cooperative arrangements would benefit from the overall assessment of the mission to be sent by the Secretary-General. She hoped it would generate concrete proposals for United Nations support. The need for concerted international efforts could not be over-emphasized, she said, and the Council should lend its support to regional actions, including through adoption of a draft resolution she would circulate.
JEAN-FRANCIS RÉGIS ZINSOU (Benin), speaking on behalf of the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, welcomed the readiness of the international community to provide necessary support to strengthen national and regional efforts to tackle piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, including the plans of the Secretary-General to deploy an assessment mission. The Council, he said, should consider going one step further by adopting a resolution on the issue, in order to generate a clear mandate for all stakeholders to support the determination of regional Governments to take decisive measures both individually and collectively. “The adoption of such a resolution would be a strong signal to the pirates that the international community always remains united and strong in the fight against transboundary organized crime and terror wherever it occurs”, he said.
He affirmed that if left unaddressed the situation could seriously jeopardize tremendous investments made by the international community towards peace and development in the region. The emergence of a zone of lawlessness in the region could not be tolerated — “breeding all kinds of illicit activities including smuggling of illegal immigrants, human trafficking and the trade in small arms and light weapons”. The worrying occurrences at sea were also accompanied by the multiplication of armed attacks on banks and trade centres in cities along rivers. He reaffirmed that the problem was a global challenge. “It should not be left on the shoulders of the countries affected even if they show — as we do — a strong determination to take action against this phenomenon,” he said, adding, “In this sense, Member States of the Gulf of Guinea expect a lot from the debate being held today”.
In his national capacity, he said that the threat of inter-State conflict in his region was almost non-existent now, but the attacks and criminality in the Gulf of Guinea was certainly a threat to international peace and security. He said that his country’s main port facilities were particularly at risk. His country’s efforts to fight the scourge included putting into service two patrol boats, participating in joint patrols and acquiring new surveillance vessels. He thanked all partners that were contributing to capacity-building for the navy. As a result of those efforts, Benin would increase its contribution to security for the waters of the region. He was convinced that that Security Council, once it saw the global dimensions of the problem, would act appropriately through a resolution under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations in support of regional efforts. He pledged his country’s continued cooperation with all the Organization’s efforts.
* *** *