UNODC convenes West African legal experts to confront maritime crime

Piracy and maritime crime is on the rise in West and Central Africa, particularly in the countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea, home to some of the world's biggest offshore oilfields. UNODC assessments and fact-finding missions have established that none of these states possesses the necessary capacities to prosecute such activities, thereby compromising security of navigation and threatening the lives and safety of seafarers. Having identified significant gaps in the respective legal systems, the UNODC's Maritime Crime Programme (MCP) held two meetings this past July in Abuja, Lagos and Lomé, bringing together the countries most affected by piracy and maritime crime in the region.


UNODC-GMCP and NIMASA collaboration

On 16 July, a UNODC delegation met members of the Board of Administration of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, including its Executive Director and Head of the Legal Department. The meeting formed part of an ongoing project managed by the Maritime Crime Programme (MCP), which aims to fight piracy and maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea by mapping legal frameworks and, where necessary, proposing legislative reforms.

The meeting focused on the situation in Nigeria, where piracy remains a problem that damages the shipping industry and Nigerian economy. The NIMASA administration has already identified the gravity of the issue, clarified their role in the fight against maritime piracy and underlined the importance of legal reforms that allow for effective prosecution of apprehended pirates.

Participants at the Lagos meeting

The current Nigerian legal framework has indeed proven itself ill-equipped in the past to prosecute such offenders. Moreover, NIMASA expressed the need for law enforcement training, recognising that the basis of any effective prosecution starts with the work of well-trained law enforcement officials at sea. The NIMASA legal department and the UNODC-MCP delegation also discussed a potential bill against maritime piracy, which was first proposed in 2012 and raised the idea of offering universal jurisdiction to Nigerian courts. The elaboration of further law reform is part of the current US-funded MCP project, and to this end two workshops have been organised to bring together prosecutors and judges working in the field of maritime crime.


UNODC-MCP meets West African jurists in Lomé

The UNODC-MCP also held a coordination meeting from the 28 to 30 July 2015 in Lomé, Togo to discuss the legal framework surrounding maritime crime. Under the coordination of Mr Giuseppe Sernia, a GMCP expert, the meeting  brought together three judges and prosecutors from Benin, Gabon, Nigeria and Togo.

Participants at the second meeting in Lomé

During the three-day event, the differences in the legal systems, including gaps and comparative advantages, were analyzed in detail. The participants worked together on current prosecution cases. The four countries then shared their legislation, prosecution and trial experiences and followed up with brainstorming sessions on each case and piece of legislation. In the coming months, a number of bilateral collaborations will take place, covering investigative and extradition procedures.

Gaps in the law of the sea underlie the problem of maritime crime and this was exemplified through case studies of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Maritime piracy was the main theme of each discussion, but other crimes at sea were also subjected to case analysis: from illegal bunkering, a criminal offence in Nigeria that is often linked to piracy due to a siphoning technique used by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, to illicit trafficking of weapons and drugs, through to illegal fishing. 

On the last day, the Chief Prosecutor of Lomé presented the Ocean Centurion case to representatives from the EU, France and the US, who also took part in the open debates that preceded the closing ceremony.

The aim of both meetings in July was to provide a setting in which delegates from West African countries facing a growing piracy threat could share experiences and identify the most pressing reform issues. Collectively they identified the need for better law enforcement training and gained a clearer understanding of the deficiencies in national laws when compared to international treaties. Looking forward, several collaborations will hone in on the issues raised, while the UN will continue to provide assistance through upcoming workshops and coordination meetings.

This meeting formed part of a wider US-funded project on law reform and raising awareness on piracy and maritime crime, currently being implemented in the aforementioned countries.

For more information:

UNODC's activities on maritime crime and piracy

2013 Yaounde Code of Conduct on Piracy and Illicit Maritime Activity

2014 UNODC Maritime Crime Programme Annual Report

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea