What's In Blue

Posted Fri 16 Nov 2012

Piracy Open Debate

On Monday morning (19 November), at the initiative of India, the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on piracy as a threat to international peace and security. It is the first time that piracy as a global phenomenon will be discussed by the Council. (In the past the Council has addressed piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea as separate issues.) A briefing is expected by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. As an outcome to the open debate, the Council is planning to adopt a presidential statement, which is currently under silence until 6pm today (Friday).

In preparation for the debate, India circulated a brief concept note (S/2012/814) on 6 November reviewing what the Council has already done to tackle piracy and highlighting key issues and remaining challenges. According to the note, the objective of the open debate is to take account of the Council’s efforts in countering piracy in a holistic manner, “with a special focus on the issue of seafarers being held hostage by the pirates”, including those seafarers’ welfare, both while in captivity and after their release. (The fate of hostages seems to be of particular concern to India as many of the seafarers held captive by pirates are Indian nationals.)

Council members also recently received the Secretary-General’s annual report on Somali piracy (S/2012/783). As there will be no separate briefing on this report, speakers in the debate may want to address some of the issues raised in this report as well. Among the observations in the report is that while gains had been made recently in the international community’s fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, that trend could easily be reversed if the problem’s root causes were not addressed. (For further background on piracy, please refer to our November Forecast.)

At press time, Council members appeared close to agreeing on the text of the draft presidential statement expected to be adopted on Monday. It seems the draft expresses the Council’s grave concern over the threat that piracy and armed robbery at sea pose to international navigation, the safety of commercial maritime routes and the security and economic development of states in the region concerned.

Apparently the draft has a strong focus on the fate of victims of piracy expressing the Council’s concern about the safety and welfare of seafarers, as well as the increasing use of violence by pirates, and strongly condemns hostage-taking and violence against hostages. The draft presidential statement also seemingly suggests that states and relevant organisations and agencies could promote measures to prevent hijackings and protect seafarers, as well as cooperate to secure the release of hostages and the prosecution of those taking hostages.

It appears that other elements of the draft largely reflect issues already addressed in Council resolutions on piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. These include calling on states to criminalise piracy and strengthen efforts to ensure justice for those involved, emphasising the importance of continuing counter-piracy efforts already in place, stressing the need for a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of piracy, and encouraging regional coordination and cooperation, while also addressing some region-specific issues.

While the draft does not call for a separate report on piracy, it requests the Secretary-General to include in relevant reports to the Council information on implementation of the presidential statement and ways of advancing international efforts to combat the problem of piracy and armed robbery at sea and associated hostage taking.

It seems negotiations were protracted with discussions focused on several key issues, including how to define the scope of the threat posed by piracy and how to address the issue of privately contracted armed security personnel on board ships (so-called PCASPs). With regard to PCASPs, it seems the draft text—in line with the Secretary-General’s observations in the above-mentioned 22 October report on Somali piracy—addresses the development of regulations for the deployment of such personnel.

Another sensitive issue during negotiations seems to have been whether to include references to possible links between piracy and illegal fishing and dumping. In the context of Somalia, this has been a somewhat contentious issue as the Council has been split between those who consider the issue as relevant to piracy and those who argue that it does not merit further consideration by the Council. The latter group received some support from the Secretary-General’s latest report on piracy off the coast of Somalia, which stated that the UN had received little evidence justifying claims about such a link and it seems that there is no mention of the issue in the final text.

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