What's In Blue

Posted Fri 6 Aug 2021

Maritime Security: VTC Open Debate*

On Monday (9 August), the Security Council will hold a videoconference (VTC) open debate on maritime security. The meeting, which is one of India’s signature events during its August presidency, will be chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Council will be briefed by Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet; Ghada Fathi Waly, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) President Félix Tshisekedi, in his capacity as chairperson of the AU. The statements of the briefers and Council members will be broadcast live, while non-Council members will have the opportunity to submit their statements in writing.

A presidential statement on maritime security, which was proposed by India, is expected to be adopted during Monday’s meeting.

Monday’s Meeting

India has circulated a concept note ahead of the debate to help guide the discussion. Monday’s meeting aims to provide Council members with an opportunity to discuss possible responses to the interconnected security, economic and environmental threats posed by maritime crimes such as piracy and armed robbery, human and drug trafficking, and transnational organised crime at sea. The concept note argues that there is a need to strengthen international cooperation to address the drivers of maritime insecurity. It advocates for cooperation between a broad range of actors to develop a coherent and holistic response to maritime security threats and asks participants to consider what roles the private sector can play in addressing maritime crime.

In the past decade, the Security Council has considered various facets of maritime security and related crimes, both in country and regional contexts and through a thematic lens. It has adopted numerous resolutions on piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. The Council has held several open debates on issues relating to maritime security, including a February 2012 meeting on the effects of drug trafficking and transnational organised crime in West Africa and the Sahel. In February 2019, the Council organised its first open debate on transnational organised crime at sea as a threat to international peace and security. At that meeting, Council members discussed means of prevention and enhanced cooperation, including by addressing the links between terrorism, piracy, and the trafficking of humans, weapons, and drugs.

At Monday’s debate, several Council members may emphasise the centrality of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as the leading international legal framework governing maritime activity. They may also reaffirm their commitments to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.

Viotti is likely to discuss the importance of enhancing international cooperation to maintain maritime security and emphasise the economic and social effects of maritime crimes. She may describe the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on global supply chains and international shipping, which accounts for 80 percent of global trade. According to the Secretary-General’s 9 September 2020 report on the oceans and the law of the sea (A/75/340), which was submitted pursuant to General Assembly resolution 74/19 of 20 December 2019, many sectors of the “blue economy” (that is, an ocean-based economy which promotes the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic and social development while preserving the health of ocean ecosystems) have been severely affected by the pandemic.

Waly may describe the technical assistance and capacity-building on measures against transnational organised crime at sea that UNODC provides through its country, regional and global programmes. She might call on member states to facilitate cooperation through the ratification and implementation of international laws and global instruments in order to expand technical assistance channels aimed at combatting illicit activities at sea.

Tshisekedi may note that the AU declared the period from 2015 to 2025 as the “Decade of African Seas and Oceans” to promote the importance of protecting African seas and oceans and using them sustainably. He may also emphasise the prevalence of transnational organised crime at sea in Africa and stress its negative effects on the stability, security and development of African countries. In this regard, he may call on member states to fully implement existing regulatory frameworks. In 2014, the AU adopted 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime (2050 AIM) Strategy with the objective of tackling threats and addressing vulnerabilities which can fuel insecurity on the continent. In 2016, the AU adopted the African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development (Lomé Charter) in order to operationalise the 2050 AIM Strategy and the AU’s Agenda 2063, the continent’s strategic framework for sustainable development and inclusive growth.

A likely focus of Monday’s meeting is illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and unlawful damage to the marine environment. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly 90 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are currently fully exploited or overfished. The FAO warned that such fishing practices may undermine national and regional efforts to achieve the goals of long-term sustainability. Some Council members may argue that illegal fishing is replacing piracy as the top global maritime security threat. They might call for effective international action to address the underlying causes of marine deterioration and the erosion of the oceans as a global common.

Council members may encourage member states to continue building and strengthening their national capacity to maintain maritime safety within their jurisdiction. They may emphasise that the broad range of peace and security threats related to maritime crime require coherent and effective multilateral approaches. In this regard, Council members are likely to stress the importance of regional cooperation on legal and law enforcement matters through information-sharing practices. As such, they may welcome regional initiatives such as UNODC’s Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime.

Some Council members may reference recent maritime incidents, such as the 29 July attack on a commercial oil tanker off the coast of Oman. On 6 August, Council members discussed the 29 July attack under “any other business” at the request of Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. These and other Council members may reaffirm the need to ensure freedom of navigation at sea and condemn attacks on international commerce.

Presidential Statement

The draft presidential statement, which is expected to be adopted at Monday’s debate, recognises the importance of increasing international and regional cooperation to counter maritime security threats, including through information-sharing. It encourages member states to continue building and strengthening their national capacities to enhance maritime safety. In this regard, the draft presidential statement encourages the UN and regional and subregional organisations to continue to assist member states in such efforts.

India circulated a first draft of the presidential statement on 21 July and Council members held several rounds of negotiations to discuss the text. The draft presidential statement passed silence today (6 August).

The draft presidential statement also notes the Security Council’s concern about the ongoing threats to maritime security posed by “piracy, armed robbery at sea, terrorists’ travel and use of sea to conduct crimes and acts against shipping, offshore installations, critical infrastructure, and other maritime interests”. An earlier draft of the presidential statement apparently also listed the issue of IUU fishing as a threat to maritime security. However, this reference was removed at the request of China.

An early draft of the presidential statement requested that the Secretary-General produce a standalone report to the Council on threats to maritime security. However, it seems that China objected to this proposal, and it was not retained in the text.

*Post-script: On 9 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/15), reaffirming that international law, as reflected in UNCLOS, sets out the legal framework applicable to activities in the oceans. The presidential statement also encourages member states to continue building and strengthening their capacities to enhance maritime security, including against piracy and armed robbery at sea, terrorist activities, and transnational organized crime.