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Gulf of Guinea Piracy: Briefing

Tomorrow morning (22 November), the Security Council will hold a briefing on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee will present the Secretary-General’s 1 November report on Gulf of Guinea piracy. There will also be briefings by Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Fathi Waly; Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) Florentina Adenike Ukonga; and Maritime Planning Officer of the AU Commission, Commander Nura Abdullah Yakubu.

On 31 May, the 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 in February 2012. Ghana and Norway, the penholders on resolution 2634, initiated this text in light of the unprecedented increase in 2019 and 2020 in the number of crew kidnappings in the Gulf of Guinea, and the labelling of this region in recent years as the world’s “hotspot” for piracy.

Pobee is expected to set out the findings and recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report, which was submitted pursuant to resolution 2634. She may describe trends in the activities of pirate groups in the Gulf of Guinea, which a decade ago largely targeted oil tankers for the theft of oil. The hijacking of oil vessels almost disappeared by 2016, however, and pirates have increasingly targeted ships of all types to kidnap crews for ransom. Kidnappings peaked in 2020, when approximately 140 people were abducted.

Pobee is likely to note recent progress in curtailing this threat. Instances of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea decreased from 123 incidents in 2020 to 45 in 2021. The trend has continued this year. The Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea reported a total of 16 incidents between January and June. The Secretary-General’s report attributes 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 improved cooperation among Gulf of Guinea countries. The deployment of navies from Denmark, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain under the EU Coordinated Maritime Presences, as well as regular patrols by the navies of Brazil, Canada, India, Morocco, Russia, the UK, and the US, have also contributed to the decline.

The “Yaoundé Code of Conduct”, signed by 25 West and Central African countries in June 2013, established the region’s maritime security architecture to fight piracy. Briefers are expected to discuss the operationalisation of this framework, known as the Yaoundé Architecture. The ICC, which is based in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and became fully operational in 2017, is responsible for coordinating the implementation of the strategy. Linked to the ICC are the West Africa Regional Maritime Security Centre (CRESMAO) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, which opened this year, and the Regional Centre of Maritime Security in Central Africa (CRESMAC) in Pointe-Noire, Congo, that has been operational since 2014. The coastal space is further divided into five maritime zones where activities are to be coordinated by five Maritime Multinational Coordination Centres—two of which have yet to open. At the national level, Maritime Operational Centres are also envisaged in each Gulf of Guinea country to bring together relevant stakeholders, such as national navies, maritime police, customs, fisheries, and environmental protection actors.

While these arrangements have been working better, the Secretary-General’s report says that the Yaoundé Architecture’s full operationalisation has 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 also reports that signatory countries of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct need 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 GGC—further strategic guidance to achieve the architecture’s full potential. The report notes that implementation has also been hindered by a lack of clarity on the division of labour between the regional structures. Pobee might recall some of these difficulties.

Waly is likely to speak about some of UNODC’s activities to support the Yaoundé Architecture’s implementation. This includes providing technical assistance, helping states, notably Ghana and Nigeria, to develop their national maritime strategies, and strengthening states’ operational and investigative capacities. UNODC has also assisted several countries with updating their national legal frameworks to criminalise acts of piracy and establish universal jurisdiction over piracy in line with articles 101 and 105 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Secretary-General’s report notes that one of the main obstacles to effectively suppressing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is that less than a third of regional states have enacted such legislation.

Ukonga of the GGC is expected to provide the perspective of the Gulf of Guinea region, while Yakubu will provide a continental perspective. Applicable AU instruments include the 2050 African Integrated Maritime Strategy adopted in 2014 and the 2016 African Charter on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa (also known as the Lomé Charter). The Lomé Charter calls on state parties to harmonise their national laws with relevant international legal instruments such as the UNCLOS. Both briefers may highlight the importance of regional mechanisms, outline the efforts of the region and the continent to address piracy and identify gaps in responses.

Council members are likely to acknowledge recent progress in combatting piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the efforts of regional countries, such as recent piracy-related prosecutions and Nigeria’s “Deep Blue” project that has dedicated significant resources since last year—including the creation of a 600-troop specialised maritime security unit —to combat piracy and other crimes at sea. They may encourage regional states’ continued commitment, as well as further support to the region to sustain recent gains. Among Ghana’s objectives in initiating resolution 2634 and organising tomorrow’s briefing are to build momentum for next year’s ten-year anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture and to further invigorate the response to the piracy threat in the Gulf of Guinea.

In addition to overcoming financial and logistical challenges, Council members are likely to stress the importance of addressing underlying causes that lead people to join pirate gangs. The Secretary-General’s report highlights such drivers, including widespread poverty in the region; high unemployment, especially among young people; and insufficient public services to meet the needs of coastal communities. Members may highlight the impact that climate change has had by altering the migration patterns of fish stocks. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in the region, as well as environmental degradation in the Niger Delta linked to the oil and gas industries, have also disrupted livelihoods and fuelled discontent that pirate groups have exploited.

Resolution 2364 requested the Secretary-General to include in his report analysis on any possible and potential linkages with terrorism in West and Central Africa and the Sahel. The report says that there is “no empirical evidence of any operational, organizational and/or ideological links between extremist, terrorist and pirate groups in the Gulf of Guinea”. Even so, some members are likely to stress the need to monitor and prevent this risk, especially as terrorist groups in the Sahel increasingly threaten Gulf of Guinea states.

At tomorrow’s session, several Council members may affirm the role of the UNCLOS as the main legal framework for addressing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, which the Secretary-General’s report notes is particularly important in the absence of adequate legislation at national levels. Debate over how to refer to the UNCLOS had prolonged the negotiations on resolution 2364, as China sought language providing for a narrower interpretation of UNCLOS’ jurisdiction and universality than was acceptable to most members. (For more information, see our 30 May What’s in Blue story.) This has become a sensitive issue over the past year and a half in Council discussions related to maritime security, which appears to stem from China’s claims in the South China Sea.

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