UNODC organized a mock trial on a piracy case in Nigeria

This activity was funded by the United Kingdom and the United States

In 2018, piracy has intensified in the Gulf of Guinea. In the first quarter of 2018, 22 cases of piracy attacks were recorded. Besides, the tactics, approaches and equipment used in piracy are advancing, making more ships vulnerable. In West Africa, piracy attacks take primarily the form of "oil bunkering", which differ from the typical piracy attacks of the Horn of Africa that mostly involve armed attacks on commercial vessels. The UNODC's experience in maritime capacity building and regional coordination, plus the lessons learned from the East Africa piracy experience makes the Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) uniquely placed to assist States to face the challenges in the Gulf of Guinea.

In light of the project 'Strengthening the Transnational Response to Smuggling of Migrants and Maritime Crime in West, North and East Africa', a piracy case mock trial was held in Abuja, Nigeria, between the 27 and the 30 June 2018, led by the GMCP. A mock trial is an imitation of public court hearings that prepares a group of practitioners to address piracy cases under a specific legal system.

The case was held in front of the Federal High Court, with Federal prosecutors arguing before Federal Judges. The mock trial was constituted of 5 young federal prosecutors, including 2 women. Their role was to argue against a team of 6 colleagues acting as defence council, all were women, and 5 judges, including 2 women. The Marine Police and Navy officers were examined as witnesses, and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) officers acted as observers during the trial.

UNODC is revving up cooperation with the Nigerian Government to ensure early passage of the anti-piracy bill before the Nigerian National Assembly, which is still to be passed. This bill on piracy was used as the basic text for prosecution of the mock trial. The bill was prepared by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice; it is designed to involve all the stakeholders in efforts to stare off piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. The bill defines the acts that are considered as piracy. It also elaborates on the application of the Act, the trial of offences and the bases for assuming jurisdiction. Additionally, it explains the process of seizure of Vessels and Aircraft used in Maritime Crime and the process of arrest, custody and preliminary inquiry into the facts of the offences.

Prosecutors and judges during the mock trial

To build this mock trial case, UNODC, jointly with INTERPOL and the US AFRICOM planned and conducted sea and land exercises. During the sea exercise named Obangame 2018, a team of maritime law enforcement officers, trained and supported by INTERPOL, boarded a French Navy vessel named Premier-Maître L'Her, role-playing a pirated vessel, from the Nigerian Navy Vessel NNS UNITY. During the exercise, evidences were collected in pictures and statements were drafted under the supervision of INTERPOL.

The sea and land exercises are part of a hands-on approach that promotes active participation of the partakers, which provides them with an understanding of the structure of the criminal networks and their modus operandi. With this approach, the participants are able to apply the concepts learned and understand how advanced investigation techniques can be used to detect, examine and prosecute perpetrators of maritime crime. It is also an opportunity for the judiciary officials and law enforcement agencies to experience many of the issues and evidential arguments that could arise in a genuine case.

After that, INTERPOL handed the evidence to UNODC, which then set up the mock trial at the Federal High Court of Abuja, Nigeria, in cooperation with the Nigerian Ministry of Justice. The UNODC mentor embedded in the Nigerian Federal Department of Public Prosecution arranged all the details for the trial. This practical exercise is an example of the importance of inter-agency exchange.


For more information :

UNODC Global Maritime Crime Programme in the Altantic Ocean

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea