What's In Blue

Posted Tue 20 Jun 2023

Briefing on Maritime Security in the Gulf of Guinea

Tomorrow afternoon (21 June), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), this month’s Council President, is organising the meeting at the request of Ghana to mark the ten-year anniversary of the “Yaoundé Code of Conduct” that created the Gulf of Guinea’s maritime security architecture. Briefings are expected from Assistant Secretary-General for Africa in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations (DPPA-DPO) Martha Ama Akyaa Pobee, President of the Commission of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Gilberto da Piedade Verissimo, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission Omar Alieu Touray, and Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC) Jose Mba Abeso.

The “Yaoundé Code of Conduct” was adopted on 25 June 2013 in Cameroon during a regional summit of Gulf of Guinea states. The maritime security architecture that it created aims at coordinating efforts for preventing acts of piracy, armed robbery, and other illicit activities across the West and Central African maritime domain, including through the establishment of a series of maritime centres. In May 2022, the Security Council adopted resolution 2634, which Ghana and Norway spearheaded to bring renewed attention to piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea. Last year’s resolution was the first Council resolution on the issue since resolution 2039 of 29 February 2012, which urged Gulf of Guinea states to organise a summit and develop a regional counter-piracy strategy, serving as the impetus for the Yaoundé summit one year later.

Resolution 2634 was adopted following a peak in instances of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea in 2020, which totalled 123 incidents, many of which targeted ships to kidnap crews for ransom. Since April 2021, there has been a steady decline in piracy. In 2021, there were 45 incidents, according to data from the Interregional Coordination Centre (ICC) for the Implementation of the Regional Strategy for Maritime Safety and Security in Central and West Africa. The downward trend continued in 2022 and, so far, this year. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a specialised department of the International Chamber of Commerce, reported five incidents in the Gulf of Guinea during the first quarter of 2023 compared to eight in the first quarter of 2022.

Ghana has circulated a concept note ahead of tomorrow’s briefing, which asserts the need to sustain regional and international efforts to promote maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, given the region’s evolving history of piracy. A 1 November 2022 report on Gulf of Guinea piracy submitted by the Secretary-General pursuant to resolution 2634 similarly highlighted that continued efforts were required to consolidate recent gains and to prevent a reversal.

The Council held a briefing on 22 November 2022 on last year’s Secretary-General’s report, which attributed the reduction since 2021 to several factors: the impact of piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo, the deterrent effects of Nigeria’s increased naval patrols, and the deployment of international navies to the region, along with improved cooperation among Gulf of Guinea countries. The report also outlined ongoing challenges to the Yaoundé Architecture’s implementation, including inadequate staffing; a lack of appropriate equipment, logistical support, and predictable and sustainable financing; and issues pertaining to the timeliness and effectiveness of information. The report suggested the need for Yaoundé Code of Conduct signatory states to provide further strategic guidance through their respective regional structures—ECCAS, ECOWAS, and the GGC—to achieve the full potential of the Yaoundé Architecture, which suffers from a lack of clarity on the division of labour within its regional structures.

In addition to marking its anniversary, the objective of tomorrow’s briefing is to spotlight the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, according to the concept note, which calls the session an opportunity to highlight key achievements and remaining challenges and gaps that are hindering the architecture’s full operationalisation. Briefers and Council members will be able to address national, regional, and multilateral efforts, as well as to identify how the international community can further support inter-regional efforts to review and make fully operational the Yaoundé Architecture, according to the concept note. They may renew their commitments to promote maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, including by leveraging the assistance of the UN, the EU, the G7++ Group of Friends of the Gulf of Guinea (FOGG) and the Gulf of Guinea Maritime Collaboration Forum and Shared Awareness and De-confliction (GoG-MCF/SHADE). (The GoG-MCF/SHADE is a platform for navies, industry partners, and other relevant stakeholders from across the Gulf of Guinea and beyond to harmonise counter-piracy efforts and communication in the region under the existing information sharing architecture.)

The Council’s African members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) and other participants may call on Yaoundé Code of Conduct signatory states, together with ECCAS, ECOWAS, the GGC and the ICC, to conduct a comprehensive review of the regional architecture to identify challenges, define the optimal use of available resources, and outline a strategic vision for the next decade. This was a recommendation in the Secretary-General’s 2022 report which has not yet been carried forward.

Among other points, the concept note says that tomorrow’s briefing will enable the UN to present its cross-system and integrated support to operationalise the Yaoundé Architecture at the political and technical level and advise the Council on key outstanding actions. The meeting may also highlight the importance of a multi-dimensional approach to effectively addressing the underlying drivers of maritime insecurity in the region, which the Secretary-General’s report also emphasised.

In this regard, on 19 May, the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) met on the Gulf of Guinea, similarly to consider achievements and remaining challenges in implementing the Yaoundé Architecture. The discussion highlighted the need to address root causes, such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by foreign industrial vessels and environmental degradation, which have disrupted the livelihoods of coastal communities. At the time of writing, the PBC was preparing a letter of advice on the Gulf of Guinea, which Council members may welcome during their interventions tomorrow.

No Council product is planned in connection with tomorrow’s meeting. Negotiations last year on resolution 2634 took over five months; not because of significant differences between members about piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, but over how to refer to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The UNCLOS has become a controversial issue during discussions related to maritime security. This stems from China’s claims in the South China Sea. During the negotiations on resolution 2634, China sought language providing a narrower interpretation of UNCLOS’ jurisdiction and universality than was acceptable to most members. The topic of IUU fishing is also often sensitive in Council discussions.

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 FOGG, which supports the implementation of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct.

For more information, see the brief on Gulf of Guinea piracy in Security Council Report’s June Forecast.

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