Gulf of Guinea Piracy
Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to hold a briefing on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.
Key Recent Developments
On 31 May 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2634 on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea. It was the Council’s first resolution on this issue since resolution 2039 of February 2012, which urged Gulf of Guinea states to organise a summit and develop a regional counter-piracy strategy. Subsequently, at a June 2013 summit, 25 West and Central African countries signed the “Yaoundé Code of Conduct”, which has since formed the main maritime security architecture for addressing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
Last year’s resolution, initiated by Ghana and Norway, sought to bring renewed attention to Gulf of Guinea piracy and mobilise greater support for efforts to tackle the problem. It expressed the Council’s deep concern about the “grave and persistent threat” posed by piracy, armed robbery, and transnational organised crime in the Gulf to international navigation, security, and the sustainable development of regional states. The resolution called on states in the region to criminalise and prosecute acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea under their domestic laws and emphasised the need to enhance and support national, regional, and international efforts to counter piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.
In accordance with resolution 2634, the Secretary-General submitted a report, dated 1 November 2022, on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf, which the Council considered at a 22 November 2022 briefing. Instances of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf peaked in 2020 (123 incidents)—in recent years, pirates have increasingly targeted ships to kidnap crews for ransom—but since then, there has been a notable decline in attacks, with 45 incidents in 2021 and a continuation of this trend in 2022. The Secretary-General’s report attributed the reduction to several factors, including the impact of piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo in July 2021, the deterrent effects of increased naval patrols by Nigeria, and the deployment of international navies to the region, along with improved cooperation among Gulf of Guinea countries.
Despite the progress, the Secretary-General’s report said that the Yaoundé Architecture’s implementation had been impeded by inadequate staffing; a lack of appropriate equipment, logistical support, and predictable and sustainable financing; and issues pertaining to the timeliness and effectiveness of information. He suggested the need for countries that are signatories of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct to provide through their respective regional structures—the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC)—further strategic guidance to achieve the full potential of the architecture, which suffers from a lack of clarity on the division of labour within its regional structures. The report highlighted that continued efforts were required to consolidate the gains and prevent a reversal.
On 25 April, the Third Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the GGC met in Accra. At the high-level meeting, the new executive secretary of the GGC was appointed, José Mba Abeso of Equatorial Guinea. Gulf of Guinea heads of state directed the GGC to develop a strategic framework within three months by reviewing current systems and structures to build on those that work well and explore mechanisms to strengthen areas identified as weak, according to the GGC’s Director of Administration and Regional Coordination, Emmanuel Budo Addo who briefed the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) at a 19 May meeting on the Gulf of Guinea.
So far in 2023, pirate and armed robbery incidents in the Gulf have continued to decrease. Just five incidents were reported in the first quarter of 2023 compared to eight in the first quarter of 2022 and 16 in 2021, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). However, the 25 March hijacking of the Danish-owned, Liberian-flagged Monjasa Reformer approximately 140 nautical miles west of Pointe Noire, Republic of the Congo, shows that the threat remains. A French patrol vessel located the vessel several days later, finding that six of the ship’s 16 crew members had been kidnapped. On 8 May, the owner of the Monjasa Reformer confirmed that all crew members had been recovered from an undisclosed location in Nigeria.
Pirates also boarded the Singapore-flagged chemical tanker Success 9 off Côte d’Ivoire on 10 April. Several days later, an Ivorian naval patrol reached the ship. According to news reports, pirates abandoned the tanker after stealing cargo and personal belongings of the crew, who were all accounted for. On 2 May, pirates reportedly kidnapped the captain and two other officers of a US bulk carrier off the coast of Gabon; Georgia announced on 24 May the release of its two nationals who were kidnapped in the attack.
Peacebuilding Commission-Related Developments
On 19 May, the PBC met on the Gulf of Guinea. It heard briefings by Budo Addo of the GGC; Colonel Emmanuel Bell Bell, Head of Information Sharing and Communications at Interregional Coordination Center in Yaoundé; Jacqueline Seck, Officer-in-Charge, West Africa Division, Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations; Delphine Schantz, Representative of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime; Kamal-Deen Ali, Executive Director, Center for Maritime Law and Security Africa; and Ife Okafor-Yarwood, Lecturer at the University of St. Andrews. In addition to counter-piracy efforts, the discussion highlighted the need to also address root causes, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign industrial vessels and environmental degradation, which have disrupted the livelihoods of coastal communities.
This was the PBC’s second meeting on piracy in the Gulf, having discussed this issue during a June 2021 meeting. The PBC also submitted written advice to the Council on the issue in an 18 November 2022 letter regarding its briefing on the Secretary-General’s 1 November report.
Key Issues and Options
June marks the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Yaoundé Architecture, created to improve cooperation among Gulf of Guinea states to fight piracy, including through the establishment of a series of maritime centres. The key issue for the Council in light of this anniversary is to reflect on the achievements and the remaining challenges in the implementation of this Architecture. Related to this is maintaining efforts that have helped reduce piracy and armed robbery incidents in order to avoid a reversal of the progress achieved in recent years.
Underlying socioeconomic challenges that cause people to join piracy organisations is another key issue, including other maritime crimes such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Possible or potential links between terrorist and piracy groups are an important recurring concern.
Council members could issue a press statement, marking the ten-year anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture and welcoming progress in fighting piracy in the Gulf, while encouraging continued efforts in this regard. Such a statement could also highlight the need to address the root causes of piracy to provide a long-term solution to this threat.
Ghana has sought to maintain Council attention on countering Gulf of piracy; both Gabon and Ghana are signatories of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. Council members Brazil, France, Japan, Switzerland, the UK, and the US are members of the G7++ Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG), which supports the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.
Last year’s negotiations on resolution 2634 lasted over five months but not because of significant differences between members about piracy in the Gulf. Instead, the main dispute was over how to refer to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The UNCLOS has become a sensitive issue during discussions related to maritime security, which stems from China’s claims in the South China Sea. In negotiations on resolution 2634, China sought language providing a narrower interpretation of UNCLOS’ jurisdiction and universality than was acceptable to most members.
Ghana was co-penholder with former Council member Norway on resolution 2634.
UN DOCUMENTS ON GULF OF GUINEA PIRACY
|Security Council Resolutions|
|31 May 2022S/RES/2634||This resolution was on piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea.|
|29 February 2012S/RES/2039||Welcomed the Secretary-General’s assessment mission on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and called on states to implement its recommendations.|
|31 October 2011S/RES/2018||Condemned threats of piracy and armed robbery on the seas of the Gulf of Guinea and called for strengthened regional cooperation.|
|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.|
|14 August 2013S/PRST/2013/13||This presidential statement regarding piracy in the Gulf of Guinea welcomed the summit on maritime safety and security and stressed the importance of regional coordination for counter-piracy efforts.|
|1 November 2022S/2022/818||This was a Secretary-General’s report on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|22 November 2022S/PV.9198||This was a briefing on Gulf of Guinea piracy.|
|31 May 2022S/PV.9050||This contained the explanation of votes on resolution 2634 on Gulf of Guinea piracy.|
|Security Council Letters|
|18 November 2022S/2022/872||This was a PBC letter of advice for the Council’s 22 November briefing on Gulf of Guinea piracy.|
|12 August 2022S/2021/722||This letter contained the record of briefing and statements from a August videoconference open debate on maritime security.|