UNODC set to tackle maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea

26 October 2020 - As the number of incidents of piracy continue to increase in the Gulf of Guinea, UNODC and the EU in collaboration with ECOWAS held a side event on the topic of “Legal Finish and Maritime Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea: Challenges and Perspectives” on the margins of the recent 10th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.

The event which had in attendance regional partners, government representatives, members of the academia and the private sector, x-rayed the challenges and perspectives of maritime piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

A legal assessment conducted by UNODC across the region had identified significant gaps with only a few countries having a sufficiently robust legal framework allowing for the effective prosecution of cases of piracy. This, in turn, appeared to constitute the primary reason for the very few successful prosecutions. In addition, weak domestic justice systems and the absence of procedures for the collection as well as for the hand over of evidence rendered effective legal action against piracy and other maritime crime unnecessarily complex.

While bringing these challenges to the fore, the event also highlighted the need for international cooperation in the area of training and capacity building, the development of frameworks for mutual legal assistance, law enforcement cooperation and the promotion of technical assistance in support of reforms of the criminal justice system.

The recent draft by UNODC of the model Hand Over Agreement for the transfer of evidence and of suspects involved in piracy and other maritime crimes in Zone E of the Yaoundé Architecture, was viewed as an initiative which would allow countries who do not have the requisite legal frameworks on piracy to bilaterally hand over ideally already at high sea suspects and evidence to countries who have put in place the necessary legal regime to investigate and prosecute piracy and other maritime crimes. The draft agreement which has received the support of ECOWAS was developed with the technical support by UNODC within the framework of the EU funded project titled “Support to West Africa Integrated Maritime Security (SWAIMS)”. Whilst this effort and other measures have been conceptualized, it is important for countries in the region to:

  1. Give priority to the ratification and domestication of the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in particular its Article 101 on piracy and Article 105 on universal jurisdiction;
  2. Ensure that offences, other than piracy, committed at sea established under domestic law meet the requirements of "serious offence" as defined by Art. 2 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; and that the countries' criminal justice authorities have jurisdiction even when such offences are committed in international waters;
  3. Criminalize auxiliary offenses supporting acts of piracy, including its financing, providing all forms of logistical support, as well the laundering of the proceeds of piracy.