Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director



United Nations Security Council High Level Virtual Open Debate “Enhancing Maritime Security: A case for international cooperation”

  9 August 2021

Mr. President,


Distinguished members of the Council,

It is indeed an honour to have this opportunity to address the Security Council on maritime security.  

I am grateful for the high-level attention and comprehensive approach that India is bringing to this urgent priority. I am also thankful for the strong support shown for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in the Presidential statement on behalf of the Council.

India has demonstrated its steadfast commitment to enhancing maritime security, including through the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. With 80 per cent of global trade carried by sea, and major shipping routes along the Indian Ocean, such cooperative responses to maritime crime are essential.

I also welcome the African Union’s continued focus on this issue, including through the Lomé Charter.

All countries, coastal and landlocked, rely on the security of the world’s oceans. Freedom of navigation, confirmed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, is recognized as a fundamental principle of international law.

This time-honoured freedom has come increasingly under threat.

Piracy and armed robbery; terrorism; drug trafficking and trafficking in nuclear materials and firearms; human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants; illegal activities in the fisheries sector; waste trafficking, and intentional and unlawful damage to the marine environment:

All represent acute challenges to global efforts to maintain international peace and security, and to keep the world’s oceans accessible and safe for seafarers and for shipping.

Climate change and marine pollution are adversely affecting billions of people, including 9.4 million fishers and two million seafarers. Hardship will leave more people vulnerable to crime and exploitation.

As commercial air travel decreased and land border controls increased in 2020 due to COVID-19, illicit drug trafficking on maritime and waterway routes accelerated in Europe, Latin America, North Africa, and South-East Asia.

According to UNODC’s 2021 World Drug Report, record shipments of cocaine were seized in European ports during the pandemic. Preliminary data from 12 countries indicate that quantities seized in seaports were up 18 per cent last year.

As the 2020 Secretary-General’s report on “Oceans and the law of the sea” highlighted, oceans also serve as transit areas for some 99 percent of the world’s Internet traffic. During the COVID-19 crisis, usage increased by up to 50 per cent.

This network of submarine cables represents a critical vulnerability, with some smaller island states relying on a single cable connection.

Piracy and armed robbery at sea continued to be a major threat during the pandemic. The lives of seafarers remain at risk, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, where some 90 percent of kidnapping incidents have occurred.

A new UNODC study has found that pirate operations in the Gulf of Guinea are becoming more sophisticated. Some six pirate groups, with 30 to 50 members each, have developed the capacity to conduct attacks in deeper waters, and they are mostly targeting international vessels to kidnap crew members for ransom.

The overall combined income resulting from the attacks has been estimated at some four million dollars per year. The economic impact, however, has been estimated to be in the range of 800 million dollars.

Now the first half of 2020 has seen a 20 percent increase in incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships compared with the same period in 2019.

Security needs, changes in routes, additional fuel, increased insurance, and other costs are estimated in the billions of dollars, with an obvious negative impact on global trade.

The need to tackle piracy and organized crime at sea has been increasingly recognized by this Council, and by Member States.

UNODC has supported Member States to address transnational challenges to maritime security for more than a decade.

Our Global Maritime Crime Programme began in 2009 with a budget of 300,000 dollars to address the threat of Somali piracy. It has since expanded into our largest programme with a budget of over 230 million dollars, providing capacity building and support for legal reform, simulated trials, maritime training centres, and more.

This assistance is provided by some 170 personnel based in 26 Member States, who work in teams focusing on the Indian Ocean; the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; Latin America and the Caribbean; the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea; and the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Yet, the challenges to maritime security continue to grow, and our responses must keep pace.

To secure our seas, we need greater concerted international efforts to target challenges and to reduce vulnerabilities. 

With this in mind, I very much welcome the holistic and comprehensive approach of this debate, and I encourage the Security Council members to build on this momentum and translate it into action. And here I would like to highlight four areas of action for consideration by the Council: implementing the international legal framework; building capabilities; expanding partnerships; and promoting holistic crime prevention responses.

Allow me to elaborate on these four points.

Firstly, we need more effective implementation of the international legal framework and Security Council resolutions promoting maritime security.

This includes Security Council resolution 2551, which gives UNODC a leading role in supporting states to disrupt trafficking of illicit and licit goods into and out of Somalia, and to curb the provision of components for improvised explosive devices intended for Al Shabaab.

The framework governing use of the oceans and their resources is further reinforced by the UN Convention against Transnational Crime, and its protocols addressing human trafficking, migrant smuggling and illicit firearms.

The Convention applies at sea as well as on land, and it has been strengthened with a new review mechanism.

Alongside the Organized Crime Convention, UNODC also supports Member States to implement the global counter-terrorism instruments, the international drug control conventions, and the Convention against Corruption.

Taken together, these instruments provide a solid basis for international cooperation against transnational maritime crime and terrorism, and we need to support all Member States to make effective use of this framework.

To do this, we need greater political will and more resources for technical assistance and capacity building. We need to enact domestic legislation, as well as enable cross-border law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation to share intelligence, and investigate and prosecute crimes at sea. 

UNODC works in coordination with UN entities, regional organizations, and other partners, to provide assistance to address the full range of maritime crime, including illicit trade supporting and financing terrorists; the smuggling of migrants at sea and forced labour onboard fishing vessels; drug trafficking; piracy and armed robbery at sea; and other threats.

Our support, coupled with sustained political will and donor commitment, is starting to yield results.

Not a single suspect had ever been convicted of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea until last month, when both Nigeria and Togo issued their first maritime piracy convictions.

Both countries have worked to strengthen criminal justice capacities in close cooperation with UNODC and other partners, including to draft and revise legislation, and build the capacities of prosecutors and judges.

Third, we need to keep strengthening international and regional cooperation, as well as public-private partnerships, to counter the expansion of maritime crime.

UNODC continues to operationalize cooperation through platforms including the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime, the Southern Route Partnership, the Caribbean Forum on Maritime Crime, and the Maritime Law Enforcement Dialogues in Southeast Asia.

I would also like to note UNODC’s work with India through the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region in New Delhi.

UNODC supports the Yaoundé maritime safety and security architecture, and we are providing experts to the Interregional Coordination Centre addressing maritime safety and security in Central and West Africa.

Our cooperation is also helping to tackle shared challenges of marine pollution in the Indian Ocean, and UNODC is working with States to develop national resilience frameworks to protect critical maritime infrastructure such as submarine cables.

Public-private partnerships are essential to all these efforts.

UNODC works closely with IMO, Interpol, regional organizations, shipping operators, lawyers, and insurers, as well as private security companies, submarine cable operators, and seafarer organizations, to increase maritime domain awareness and improve law enforcement responses.

Harnessing advanced technologies and data is a key opportunity and priority for UNODC across our mandate areas, and we are helping Member States to leverage technology in the fight against maritime crime, including through the provision of satellite imagery, radar systems, and maritime domain awareness infrastructure.

Fourth and finally, I would like to highlight the need to tackle root causes, and support all countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as part of integrated crime prevention responses, most of all for affected coastal communities.

The private sector can be our partner in these endeavours.

Major shipping companies issued a declaration in May 2021 on the suppression of piracy, which also highlighted the importance of capacity building and information-sharing.

Pirates, criminals, and terrorists exploit poverty and desperation to seek recruits, gain support, and find shelter. To counter these threats, we need to raise awareness and educate people, especially youth, while providing alternative livelihoods and support for local businesses.

Mr. President, dear Council members,

We know that there can be no security without development, and no development without security, on land, or at sea.

Now the global pandemic has exposed many fragilities and vulnerabilities of our societies and economies, and this is no less true of the maritime domain.

To recover better and promote prosperity, we need to strengthen cooperation and capabilities. We must combat immediate threats to maritime security, while building local capacities and empowering coastal communities to manage the problem sustainably over the long term. This requires meaningful investment, commitment, and political will.

Working together, we can keep our seas safe and free from crime.

Thank you.