Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my honour to brief you on the maritime crime situation in the Gulf of Guinea region.
The Gulf of Guinea remains a persistently challenging area to police and secure. Last year saw 84 attacks at sea; 130 people were kidnapped in these attacks, and the violence has not stopped in 2021.
While there are prosecutions underway, not a single suspect has ever been convicted of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea thus far.
Swift and coordinated action is needed to redress this situation, even as the threat itself evolves and grows.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is conducting a study on pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea, which will be published soon, and I would like to share with you some of its preliminary findings.
According to the data we have gathered, there are not more than six pirate groups with the capability of operating in deep waters in the Gulf of Guinea at present; each of these groups has approximately 30 to 50 members.
Today, most of their attacks target international vessels to kidnap crew members for ransom. The overall combined income resulting from these attacks is approximately 4 million dollars per year, but the economic impact is estimated to be in the range of 800 million.
This relatively small criminal enterprise is thus inflicting heavy costs, both human and economic, in the Gulf of Guinea and beyond.
UNODC will partner with Norway and the NGO Stable Sea to produce an analysis of the cost of piracy by the end of this year.
Through our Global Maritime Crime Programme, UNODC has been assisting countries on the Gulf of Guinea to confront crime at sea since 2015.
We are supporting the review of legislation in 16 coastal countries in West and Central Africa, and helping to revise regulatory frameworks in eight countries.
As a result of our efforts Togo, Nigeria, Gabon, and Cabo Verde have already updated their legislation on piracy.
UNODC has trained almost 2,000 judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers on evidence collection, identification of jurisdictional criteria, prosecution techniques, and other skills.
We have also held 14 full trial simulations with INTERPOL, testing the entire chain of justice.
Furthermore, UNODC is supporting regional cooperation, working with ECOWAS to draft the first agreements for handover of piracy suspects and evidence.
We are also providing two long-term embedded experts to the Interregional Coordination Centre to advise on training and legal issues.
These efforts have helped to develop a solid foundation, but we need to tackle key challenges to better translate this assistance into results.
Firstly, the complete absence of criminal convictions must be addressed as a matter of priority.
Most countries in the region have yet to introduce piracy as a self-standing offence under their criminal law, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Coastal countries along the Gulf of Guinea need to clearly commit to increasing the number and quality of arrests and prosecutions of suspected pirates.
Regional cooperation, the adoption of handover agreements and naval coordination can greatly facilitate prosecutions.
Secondly, the Yaoundé maritime safety and security architecture needs further support, including through the provision of adequate funding and human resources.
Thirdly, capacity-building efforts must be owned by coastal countries and regional organizations.
National authorities should be assisted in providing standardized and sustainable anti-piracy training to their own officials, and when possible, to those of neighbouring countries.
Focusing support to training programmes in regional institutions like ENVR in Equatorial Guinea could also enhance ownership.
Finally, pirates and criminals take advantage of poverty and unemployment in coastal communities to garner support and seek recruits.
Sustainable crime prevention requires a holistic, development-centred approach that addresses the plight of communities, and aims to provide them with decent livelihoods.
The private sector can be a valuable partner in our endeavours.
Several important shipping companies have recently issued a declaration on the suppression of piracy, highlighting the importance of capacity-building and information-sharing.
We will look to cooperate with them in developing our technical assistance, and in promoting crime prevention in coastal communities.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is growing in scope and sophistication. We need to consolidate the frameworks and capacities to enforce the law in the region’s waters, before the threat escalates further.
UNODC is committed to continue working in cooperation with international partners, the private sector, coastal communities, and all stakeholders, to combat piracy and maritime crime for a safe and prosperous Gulf of Guinea.