Distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to brief you today.
I would like to begin by commending the Council for adopting resolution 2634 in May of this year, and for your continued attention to the threat posed by piracy and organized crime at sea, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea.
Your attention and action have come at the right time.
The threat of piracy has cost the region lives, stability, and over 1.9 billion dollars in financial losses every year.
The report of the Secretary-General that is being presented today reflects a moment of opportunity in our fight against this threat.
The substantial decrease in piracy incidents and victims in the Gulf of Guinea this year, particularly for kidnapping for ransom, is a welcome result of many years of work, including in the context of the Yaoundé Maritime Security Architecture.
At sea, there are more naval patrols and stronger cooperation between regional navies, backed by navies from outside the region who have deployed assets, creating a more secure maritime environment.
On land, a greater focus on criminal justice has resulted in stronger measures, including the first-ever piracy convictions in the region, in Nigeria and Togo.
It is yet too soon to declare victory. We need to instead capitalize on the momentum, and create a sustainable framework to protect the Gulf of Guinea from pirate groups and any criminal activity they may engage in.
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture next year, there is a real chance to dedicate more attention, resources, and action in support of maritime security and rule of law in the Gulf of Guinea.
Firstly, we need to help Member States in the region to continue developing their capacities and legal frameworks against piracy.
Domestic laws must criminalize piracy and enable its prosecution in every country in the Gulf of Guinea.
We should help them to enact such legislation, and to address the significant legislative gaps that remain in many countries.
In parallel, it is vital to continue building detection and interdiction capacities for law enforcement.
This includes training for Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure procedures, as well as improved maritime domain awareness, and technical and logistical support to facilitate joint maritime patrols.
And pirates must be held accountable at the end of the process.
We must improve investigation and prosecution capacities, to give teeth to enforcement efforts and reach a “legal finish” to every case pursued.
The milestone convictions achieved last year in Nigeria and Togo prove that it is possible, and the Supplementary Act adopted by ECOWAS this year on the handover of piracy suspects is an important landmark that will pave the way for more prosecutions.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime was proud to support both of those groundbreaking achievements.
We continue to assist countries in the region with legal reforms to prosecute piracy, including Gabon where a revised penal code is planned to be adopted next month.
UNODC is also training naval law enforcement across the region, helping maritime agencies to improve cooperation, and providing technical assistance to the key institutions of the Yaoundé Architecture.
Secondly, we must be agile and adaptable in responding to shifting trends and emerging threats related to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
The criminal profits gained from kidnapping for ransom piracy remain limited compared to other organized crimes, with around 4 million dollars paid annually in ransom to free abducted seafarers.
New UNODC research suggests that pirate groups in the Gulf of Guinea may be moving instead into more lucrative maritime crimes, such as oil bunkering, theft, and smuggling.
Law enforcement in the region requires support against a wide range of illicit maritime activities and related crimes.
This includes different forms of trafficking and illegal oil refining, as well as illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, among others.
We must prevent the threat from simply taking a different form.
To close down options for criminals at sea, we suggest considering the possibility of developing a regional framework to expand cooperation against illicit maritime activities.
The San Jose Treaty on counter-narcotics, applicable in the Caribbean Basin, can serve as a useful example to consider.
There is also a growing spillover of terrorism from the Sahel into the Gulf of Guinea, as evidenced by the rising number of terrorist attacks, particularly in Benin, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire.
While there is no concrete evidence to suggest links between terrorists in the Sahel and pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, we must remain vigilant against the possibility of terrorist groups linking up with criminal enterprises at the coast, and undermining security gains in the region.
UNODC is supporting coastal countries to strengthen criminal justice systems and law enforcement cooperation, as well as to improve prevention measures.
Thirdly, and crucially, we need to address the root causes of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, by working with communities and creating better living conditions.
Coastal communities in the region are the most vulnerable to the impact of piracy and maritime crime, and they also face the difficult conditions that drive these illicit activities, such as poverty and youth unemployment.
Environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity are further impacting lives and livelihoods, fueled by climate change and made worse by illegal fishing.
Criminals at sea must be stopped and held accountable, but to ensure a truly sustainable response, due attention must be paid to the people who may become such criminals, the factors that drive them to it, and the people most affected.
We must pursue community-based crime prevention strategies and engage with at-risk and marginalized youth to cultivate personal and social skills, prevent risky behaviors, and grant them opportunities.
UNODC is supporting the development of community-based crime prevention strategies in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, an approach we hope to replicate in other coastal communities.
As we look to capitalize on present successes, we must celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Yaoundé Architecture next year by pursuing more ambitious, comprehensive, and sustainable responses.
To do so, we need sufficient funding and sustained political attention, and we will count on your help and your commitment in this regard.
UNODC will continue to work with Member States in the Gulf of Guinea, as well as with the Gulf of Guinea Commission, ECCAS, ECOWAS and our partners across the UN, for safer waters and safer shores.