I welcome this opportunity to brief the Security Council on piracy and armed robbery at sea, and to introduce the annual report of the Secretary-General on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Piracy and armed robbery against ships is a global concern. It affects the freedom of shipping and the safety of shipping lanes that carry about 90 per cent of the world’s trade.
Pirate attacks also endanger the safety of seafarers, fishermen and passengers, and the delivery of humanitarian aid. It damages maritime industries such as ports, fisheries and tourism, thereby hindering sustainable development.
According to the latest reports from the International Maritime Organization, there were 291 attacks against ships in the first ten months of 2012. Pirates are still holding 293 seafarers hostage. As in 2011 and 2010, the areas most affected are East Africa, West Africa and the Far East.
The latest report of the Secretary-General notes a sharp decline in pirate attacks in waters off the coast of Somalia in 2012 compared to 2011. However, these gains can be easily reversed if we do not address the causes of piracy, including instability, lawlessness and problems of effective governance, notwithstanding recent important political progress in Somalia.
Although piracy is a global problem, it takes different forms. Off the coast of Somalia, pirates are well organized, hijacking ships and crews to hold them for ransom. In the Gulf of Guinea, piracy is related to the theft of oil and linked with the regional black market and organized crime. While hostages have been taken, ransoms do not appear to be the driving goal. There are also differences in the political and governance context that contributed to the rise of piracy in these areas.
Still, our response in the Gulf of Guinea and elsewhere can rely on the lessons learned from Somalia, including a focus on modernizing counter-piracy laws, strengthening capacities for maritime law enforcement and crime investigation, supporting regional networks, as well as knowledge sharing.
Combating piracy requires a multi-dimensional approach.
In Somalia, this has meant stabilizing the country through a Somali-owned process. The new President of Somalia has made an impressive start, but challenges remain significant. We need to move swiftly to support the Government so that it finally can provide the security and peace dividends that Somalis deserve. We welcome the Government’s commitment to combat piracy, as stated in the Programme endorsed by Parliament last Tuesday.
Second, Somalia needs a comprehensive maritime security and economic strategy, with a proper legal framework, including the proclamation of an Exclusive Economic Zone in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We should translate the success at sea into progress on land.
Third, we need to strengthen the capacity of States to prosecute individuals suspected of piracy and to imprison convicted pirates. That effort must include deterring and suppressing the financing of piracy and the laundering of ransom money. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Counter-Piracy Programme is helping in this regard, including to ensure that prison conditions meet international standards.
Fourth, the constructive engagement of Member States, international and regional organizations to build consensus on a joint response should continue.
The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia now comprises over 70 participants with impressive expertise.
Other initiatives complete these efforts, including the Djibouti Code of Conduct, under the auspices of the IMO, and the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre recently established in the Seychelles.
The United Nations Political Office for Somalia also plays a key role under Security Council resolution 1976 in coordinating the efforts of Somalia with those of UN agencies, regional organizations and the international community.
And consistent with Security Council resolution 2039, the UN offices for Central Africa and West Africa are assisting the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission in the preparations for a regional summit on piracy in Cameroon in April 2013.
Fifth, the shipping industry should be encouraged to take steps to protect itself. Twenty per cent of vessels transiting high-risk waters do not implement security measures, and those vessels account for the overwhelming number of successfully pirated ships. The IMO is closely working with the industry on a variety of measures and best practices that have prevented pirates from boarding vessels and enabled rescues.
Finally, the United Nations is grateful for the robust counter-piracy support provided by the naval presence established by the European Union, NATO, the Combined Maritime Task Force and individual Member States. Several Member States, including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Republic of Korea and Russia, deployed naval and military assets in the region as part of international counter-piracy efforts.
Let us also remember the seafarers themselves. Hostages endure the most horrendous conditions, and are often threatened and tortured in an effort to extract a ransom. I welcome that the Board of the Trust Fund to Support the Initiatives of States to Counter Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, chaired by the Department of Political Affairs, recently approved a project to provide medical care, accommodation, food and clothes to hostages during the release phase, and to help them return home swiftly.
Let us not forget this human dimension.
Looking ahead, three challenges require our immediate attention.
First, better coordination, information-sharing and trust-building among countries and agencies involved in counter-piracy operations.
Second, stronger capacity to prosecute piracy cases and imprison those convicted in accordance with international human rights standards.
Third, the establishment of a framework governing the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board vessels. The work being undertaken by the IMO should continue in order to ensure regulation and accountability.
Piracy is a problem the international community can address successfully if we continue to work together. The United Nations remains committed to working with its partners to consolidate international assistance, coordinate our activities, and deliver a comprehensive response to this threat.