U.N.: Cooperation, Addressing Root Causes Needed in Piracy Fight
Piracy is drastically declining in the Gulf of Guinea, but experts say more can be done to eliminate the threat.
The number of piracy incidents in the region fell from 81 in 2020 to 34 in 2021, when the Gulf of Guinea also accounted for all kidnappings at sea worldwide. In 2022, there were only three attacks recorded in the Gulf.
There were five incidents of piracy and armed attacks reported in the region in the first quarter of 2023, according to the United Nations Security Council.
Despite the declining threat, “piracy incidents continued to threaten the safety of maritime traffic in the region” this year, Martha Pobee, the U.N.’s assistant secretary-general for Africa, told the Security Council in late June.
That was underscored in March, when pirates attacked a Danish-owned oil and chemical tanker known as the Monjasa Reformer about 140 nautical miles off the coast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Authorities later found the ship off the coast of São Tomé and Príncipe, but six of its 16 crew members had been kidnapped.
Pobee has said the decline in incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea might be attributable to criminal networks shifting to other forms of maritime crime, such as oil bunkering and theft.
To eliminate piracy, authorities must address its root causes, supply maritime law enforcement with better equipment and ensure sustainable funding to adequately implement the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, Pobee told the Security Council. The Yaoundé Code’s goal is to get member countries to cooperate in fighting all forms of maritime crime.
The merits of committing money to tackle piracy were seen in Nigeria, where attacks fell from 48 in 2018 to six in 2021, when President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled $195 million worth of boats, vehicles and aircraft to address the threat. Nigeria recorded no piracy incidents in 2022.
Widespread poverty, poor public services, and the effects of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing all fueled the rise of piracy in the region, Pobee reported last year. West Africa is considered the world’s hot spot for IUU fishing.
Experts say people who turn to piracy are often small-scale fishermen whose territories have been invaded for decades by foreign fleets that often fish illegally. China, which commands the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, is by far the worst IUU fishing actor in West Africa.
According to Pobee, pirate groups indiscriminately target vessels of all types, including fishing vessels, and increasingly commit crimes farther out at sea.
Enhanced coordination between the Interregional Coordination Centre, the Gulf of Guinea Commission, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) remains essential, Pobee said. Recent data suggests that piracy incidents are steadily shifting from ECOWAS to ECCAS waters.
“Such efforts, including forming joint naval task groups, have enhanced cooperation and information sharing while forging a centralized process for maritime security that bridges national and regional capacity gaps,” Pobee said in a report by Nigerian newspaper Peoples Gazette.
The establishment of the Regional Monitoring, Control and Surveillance Center (RMCSC) in Tema, Ghana, in 2021 and the opening of the West Africa Regional Maritime Security Centre (CRESMAO) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in 2022 have helped to drastically reduce piracy incidents.
The RMCSC is equipped with vessel-tracking systems and can collect data on authorized fishing vessels across the region. CRESMAO provides information management and sharing, operational monitoring, crisis coordination, training and capacity building.
Carolyn Abena Anima Oppong-Ntiri, the Security Council’s deputy permanent representative from Ghana, said that a collaborative approach is the only way to stop piracy.
“It is essential to prioritize implementation of regional instruments designed to tackle maritime insecurity, tackle the root causes of piracy and armed robbery at sea, and adopt a whole-of-society approach that includes the private sector and local communities,” Oppong-Ntiri said in the Peoples Gazette report.