Open Debate on Piracy
Expected Council Action
At the initiative of India, the Council is expected to hold an open debate in November on piracy as a threat to international peace and security. This will be the first time that the Council attempts to address piracy as a global threat by taking an integrated look at the situation across regions. In the past, the Council has addressed piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea as separate issues.
Ahead of the debate, India will circulate a concept note on key issues for consideration. A presidential statement is expected as an outcome.
Background and Key Recent Developments
In recent years, there has been a steady rise in piracy attacks worldwide, from 239 in 2006 to 439 in 2011, with most of the increase coming from a surge in attacks off the coast of Somalia. In 2011, more than half of the attacks occurred there. The other two main piracy hot-spots are West Africa/Gulf of Guinea and Southeast Asia.
In response, and following a request for assistance from Somalia, the Council in 2008 took up piracy off the coast of Somalia as a regional threat. On 2 June it adopted resolution 1816, authorising states cooperating with Somali authorities for a period of six months to enter the territorial waters of Somalia and use all necessary means “for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, in a manner consistent with such action permitted on the high seas with respect to piracy under relevant international law.”
These provisions were later expanded to allow action on land and have been renewed annually, most recently in resolution 2020 adopted on 22 November 2011. The Council also called for enhanced international cooperation to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, leading to the establishment of the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia in January 2009.
How to ensure accountability for acts of piracy has been another key focus for the Council in the context of Somalia. Most recently, on 24 October 2011, the Council asked the Secretary-General for a report on how specialised anti-piracy courts could be established in Somalia and nearby states to ensure prosecution of suspected pirates. The report (S/2012/50) was issued on 20 January, but there has been no follow-up action by the Council since then.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea—home to major oil producers (Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Ghana)—was first brought to the Council’s attention on 23 August 2011, when then-Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council on the issue during his monthly “horizon scanning” briefing. That year, piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had increased exponentially.
The Council held an open debate on the issue on 19 October 2011, and on 31 October unanimously adopted resolution 2018, which condemned acts of piracy and armed robbery in the region and encouraged enhanced regional counter-piracy cooperation. The resolution also welcomed the Secretary-General’s plan to send an assessment mission to the region to examine the problem.
In a report (S/2012/45) submitted to the Council on 18 January, the assessment mission concluded that the growing incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea constituted a major threat to security in the region and warned that the consequences of inaction could be catastrophic. It also called for the development of a regional strategy. In response, the Council on 29 February adopted resolution 2039 welcoming the report and encouraging implementation of its recommendations.
Despite these efforts, piracy attacks in the Gulf of Guinea increased this year. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said on 22 October that 34 incidents were recorded between January and September, up from 30 in 2011. Togo reported more attacks so far in 2012 than in the previous five years combined, with three vessels hijacked, two boarded and six attempted attacks.
By contrast, international efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia seem to have had an impact. The IMB found that the number of attacks by pirates fell markedly from 199 in the first nine months of 2011 to 70 during the same period this year, its lowest level since 2009.
A key issue for the Council is how to strengthen the international response to piracy as a global threat to international peace and security.
Another issue is what lessons can be learned from the experiences gained so far at the regional level that may be applied universally. These experiences cover areas such as effective coordination and cooperation mechanisms, preventive measures taken by the shipping industry (which include the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on ships), strengthening legal frameworks to ensure accountability for acts of piracy, capacity-building for states in the affected regions and addressing the root causes of piracy. A related issue is the difference across regions in the way pirates operate and the capacity of regional states to take effective action.
There also seems to be growing recognition of the human cost of piracy as an issue deserving more attention, including how to ensure assistance to hostages and their families.
The main option for the Council is to adopt a presidential statement that would call for strengthened international action against piracy based on some of the experiences already gained and mechanisms in place. Such a statement could also ask the Secretary-General for a report on piracy at the global level and recommendations for further action.
India’s strong concern about piracy is not surprising as much of its trade passes through the Gulf of Aden and it has therefore been directly affected by the increase in piracy off the coast of Somalia. It is actively involved in the international naval operations off the coast of Somalia and will chair the next meeting of the Somalia Contact Group on Piracy scheduled for 11 December. India has expressed a particular concern for the fate of the hostages and their families as its nationals constitute seven percent of the world’s seafarers.
Other Council members seem to welcome India’s initiative. There is general support for stronger action against piracy although in the past there have been some differences on certain issues, such as the best strategy for strengthening prosecution, which may come into play in the negotiations on a presidential statement.
UN Documents on Piracy
|Security Council Resolutions|
|29 February 2012 S/RES/2039||This resolution concerned piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.|
|22 November 2011 S/RES/2020||This resolution renewed for a period of 12 months the anti-piracy measures related to Somalia first established by the Council in resolution 1950.|
|31 October 2011 S/RES/2018||This resolution concerned the threats of piracy and armed robbery on the seas of the Gulf of Guinea.|
|24 October 2011 S/RES/2015||This resolution called for additional measures to strengthen prosecution of Somali pirates and requested a report from the Secretary-General within 90 days.|
|22 October 2012 S/2012/783||This report of the Secretary-General was on piracy off the coast of Somalia.|
|20 January 2012 S/2012/50||This report was on specialised anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other states in the region.|
|Security Council Letter|
|18 January 2012 S/2012/45||This letter included a report of the United Nations assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (7 to 24 November 2011).|
Useful Additional Source
Calming Troubled Waters: Global and Regional Strategies for Countering Piracy, Special Report, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, August 2012