Expected Council Action
In August, the Security Council is expected to hold a high-level open debate on maritime security. The meeting will be held via videoconference (VTC). Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, will chair the meeting. Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, and Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs & Crime (UNODC), are expected to brief the Council. A presidential statement is a possible outcome.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The Security Council has considered various facets of maritime security and related crimes in recent years. For over a decade, the Council has addressed the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia, reauthorising international naval forces on a yearly basis to combat piracy in that area. Since 2011, it has also considered the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. In April 2016, the Council held an open debate on piracy in the Gulf, after which it adopted a presidential statement expressing deep concern regarding the “threat that piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea pose to international peace and security”.
The Council has also focused on maritime crime in the Mediterranean region. At an open debate in November 2017 on the security challenges in the Mediterranean, Secretary-General António Guterres recognised piracy as one of several peace and security threats facing the region.
In June 2018, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, and the US organised an Arria-formula meeting on maritime crime as a threat to international peace and security. Participants discussed several forms of maritime crime, including piracy and armed robbery, arms and drug trafficking, fisheries crime, smuggling of migrants, and human trafficking.
The Council has focused particular attention on drug trafficking in the context of maritime crime. It first discussed the topic under the agenda item “Peace and Security in Africa” during an open debate in December 2009. This was followed by a briefing in February 2010 under the agenda item “Threats to International Peace and Security”, and an open debate in February 2012 and a briefing in December 2013 on the impact of drug trafficking and transnational organised crime in West Africa and in the Sahel. Several presidential statements were also adopted during this period that noted with concern the serious threats posed to international security by drug trafficking and related transnational organised crime. Five years later, in December 2018, the Council convened a meeting on “Drug Trafficking in West Africa as a threat to stability”, during which several members acknowledged the connections between maritime crime and drug trafficking. In June 2019, Council members held an Arria-formula meeting on transnational organised crime and drug trafficking as a threat to international stability, with a particular focus on the Caribbean region.
In February 2019, the Council organised its first open debate on transnational organised crime at sea as a threat to international peace and security. The debate focused on the root causes of transnational organised crime at sea, and Council members discussed means of prevention and enhanced cooperation in this regard, including by addressing the links among terrorism, piracy, and trafficking of humans, weapons, and drugs. During the meeting, former UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov noted that transnational maritime crime had become increasingly sophisticated, expanding both the size and scope of criminal activities.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council to consider is how it can galvanise attention and effective responses to the interconnected security, economic and environmental threats posed by maritime crimes such as human and drug trafficking, transnational organised crime, and piracy.
A further important issue is how the Council can work with a broad range of actors—including national governments, local authorities, civil society and the private sector—to develop coherent and holistic responses to the threats to maritime security. While there is a robust international legal framework (the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) in place to address transnational maritime crime, contemporary maritime security challenges have generated new mechanisms and initiatives that bridge traditional civil-military and public-private divisions, offering a new perspective on addressing maritime security.
Another key issue is whether intentional and unlawful damage to the marine environment—as well as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing—is a matter within the Council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security. In this regard, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon maintained in his 2008 report, “Oceans and the Law of the Sea”, that such activities “can…threaten the interests of States”, while acknowledging that most definitions of “maritime security” typically focus on security from crimes at sea such as piracy, armed robbery against ships, and terrorist acts.
Depending on the deliberations, Council members may consider adopting a presidential statement reaffirming commitments to addressing maritime security in a comprehensive and holistic manner. Such a statement could:
- stress the importance of multilateral cooperation for maintaining maritime security;
- highlight the importance of technical assistance and capacity-building at the national and regional levels on this issue;
- emphasise the need to enhance channels of communication between governments and the private sector on maritime security;
- call on member states to facilitate cooperation through the ratification and effective use of international legal frameworks; and
- identify ways to improve cooperation and coordination with regard to data collection, research and analysis, as well as judicial procedures, pertaining to maritime security.
Council members recognise that the broad range of peace and security threats related to maritime crime require coherent and effective multilateral approaches, particularly given the transnational implications of this issue. Council members, 14 of which are littoral states—only Niger has no coast—will have a particular interest in the issue, given the significance of these threats to their respective sub-regions.
There is significant consensus among Council members regarding the links among the various facets of maritime crime, such as piracy and armed robbery, and transnational organised crime. There is also strong support for strengthening cooperation and coordination in this regard. However, the Council has never addressed the issue of maritime security from a holistic perspective, which is the intention of this meeting.
The Council has previously referred to the strengthening of state institutions, economic and social development, and the respect for human rights and the rule of law as necessary conditions for the eradication of piracy and armed robbery at sea, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea. However, certain Council members may be reluctant to acknowledge the Council’s role in addressing matters they consider as further removed from maritime security and crime, such as the protection of the marine environment and the depletion of natural resources through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
UN DOCUMENTS ON MARITIME SECURITY
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|26 April 2016S/PRST/2016/4||This was a presidential statement which encouraged regional states, regional organisations and international partners to make fully operational the Gulf of Guinea counter-piracy mechanisms as soon as possible.|
|10 March 2008A/63/63||This was the Secretary-General’s report on oceans and the law of the sea.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|5 February 2019S/PV.8457||This was a Council debate on transnational organised crime at sea.|
|19 December 2018S/PV.8433||This was a briefing on “Drug trafficking in West Africa as a threat to stability” by Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov.|
|25 April 2016S/PV.7675||This was an open debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.|