Piracy in Somalia is Decreasing, says IMO

At the end of a year focused on a wide-ranging anti-piracy campaign, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) cautiously announced a decrease in piracy and other related attacks in Somalia:

“Recently compiled statistics show that the number of ships and seafarers held captive by Somali pirates have reduced from a peak of 33 and 733 in February to 13 and 265 respectively, at the beginning of December. The number of reported attacks has also declined from a high of 45 per month in January 2011 to 14 for the month of November 2011; and the proportion of successful attacks has been cut from 20 per cent in January 2011 to just 7 per cent in November 2011.”

Further up to date figures are also available from the International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre.

During 2011, the IMO engaged at various levels to bring about a solution to piracy and related crimes, particularly concerning the protection of both ships and seafarers as well as the enhancement and enforcement of maritime law. Most notably, the IMO dedicated this year world maritime day to the theme of “Piracy: Orchestrating the Response” and launched a campaign directed at improving coordination among States, the private sector, international and non-governmental organizations to tackle piracy.

 The changing nature of modern day piracy and other forms of armed robbery at sea, its increasing links with other forms of organized crimes, the deeply rooted social causes at their basis as well as their impressive economic impact have given a new dimension to the phenomenon. We have referred to this as transmaritime criminality.

While the falling of piracy related numbers in the Somalian hotspot is certainly a welcome news, the IMO understandably warned of the risk of becoming complacent with these positive results. Success in combating piracy remains contingent on the local situation on the ground which, in the case of Somalia, remains unstable. Current signs of criminal activities, particularly the risk of these spreading into West Africa, call for a continuing engagement with the process stakeholders. This should also be aimed at developing a comprehensive and holistic approach towards all facets and root-causes of transmaritime criminality.

Following Security Council Debate, UN Deploys Assessment Mission to West Africa

As anticipated in previous posts, the UN recently deployed an assessment mission in West Africa. The mission, composed of representatives of several UN Offices and Agencies, has been tasked with examining the scope of the threat of piracy in the region as well as local capacities in ensuring maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea. In addition, the Mission will make recommendations on anti-piracy measures, also looking at the broader context of organized crimes and drug trafficking. Upon its completion, the Mission will submit a report to the UN Secretary General.

The Mission’s deployment was preceded by a much anticipated debate at the UN Security Council. Spearheaded by Nigeria’s presidency, the Council discussed the need for action against piracy and emerging transmaritime criminality in West Africa. Several representatives made statements during the debate, highlighting the increasing nature of the problem and its impact on international navigation as well as the economy and the overall security in the region. The Council unanimously stressed the need to develop lessons learned from the fight against piracy in East Africa and the Gulf of Aden and concurred on the need for a coordinated holistic approach to tackle the issue and its socio-economic roots before it escalates further.

Notably, West African states currently sitting in the Council called for strong international support and asked for a UN resolution to provide a region-wide legal framework for action. Remarking on the specific and novel features of piracy in the area, Gabon went as far as proposing the drafting and adoption of an international instrument against piracy.

Other states, however, ranked the situation in the Gulf of Guinea as of lesser severity to the situation in the Gulf of Aden and other coastal areas of East Africa. The United States, France and England, among others, stressed how the leadership in the fight against piracy should remain in the hands of the states directly concerned by this phenomenon, while the international community should focus on continuing or increasing technical assistance and capacity building already provided, particularly in the fields of information sharing and personnel training. France recently confirmed its support towards anti-piracy measures in the region with a donation of 1 million dollars to Ghana, Togo and Benin as part of a three years founding project.

The debate was followed by the Security Council unanimous approval of Resolution 2018 (2011) on the issue of piracy and organized crime in West Africa, developing on the main points of the discussion before the Council. Due to its significance with regard to piracy in West Africa, the resolution, interestingly falling under the rubric of “Peace and Security in Africa” will be further discussed in a forthcoming post. As a preliminary remark, it is worth noting that Resolution 2018 confirms Articles 100, 101 and 105 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as setting out the applicable legal framework to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea and, further, notes that applicable international legal instruments already provide for the creation of criminal offences and prosecution of persons responsible for seizing or exercising control over a ship or fixed platform by force. The Security Council thus appears to resist to any call for updated or novel legislation to combat modern piracy although the current legal framework is arguable not suited to encompassing all forms of transmaritime criminality, including piracy, armed robbery at sea, and drug and arms smuggling at sea.

From the Gulf of Aden Back to the Gulf of Guinea: Piracy Reports in West Africa on the Rise

Dear Readers, Let me introduce you to today’s guest blogger, Matteo Crippa. Mr. Crippa has substantial experience in West Africa and in international criminal law, having served as a legal officer at the Special Court for Sierra Leone from its inception. He brings a fresh perspective and insight to today’s topic. I would like to express my appreciation for his contribution and hope that it is the first of many to come.

The UN Security Council recently expressed concerns over reports of increased piracy, armed robbery and hostage taking in the Gulf of Guinea and their adverse impact on security and economic activities in West Africa. It is calling for the UN Offices for West and Central Africa to work with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Maritime Organization, all concerned countries and regional organizations. The UN Secretary General further indicated its intention to deploy an assessment mission to explore possible options for UN support.

While today’s counter-piracy attention shifted to the Gulf of Aden, with more than half the global piracy attacks being ascribed to Somali pirates, the Gulf of Guinea has long been a high risk area. With the increase of maritime commercial traffic, discovery of oil off the coasts of countries other than Nigeria, installation of additional offshore extracting infrastructure and on-going instability in various coastal areas, acts of piracy are on the rise. In 2009, the number of attacks fell short of those in the South-East Asia region. But, there are an increasing number of attacks in Togo, Nigeria and Benin.

Albeit sharing similar criminal goals and root causes, the nature of the attacks appears to differ with those off the Somali coast, encompassing an equal amount of armed robberies or hijackings and hostage takings. In addition to the immediate financial effect on oil and natural resource exploration and exploitation, the increased piracy activity appears to have a substantial impact on a set of traditional economic activities, such as commercial trade, regional travel and fishing.

Notwithstanding this difference, one unique feature of West Africa piracy is its limited territorial and regional purview (at least for now). Particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, piracy is mainly a by-product of the Niger Delta crisis. Acts of piracy and related criminal activities are still largely, if not exclusively, confined to territorial waters, and pirates do not yet possess the logistics and organizational capabilities of those operating in Somalia. Piracy per se can only be committed beyond the territorial sea, with all the equivalent acts occurring within territorial and internal waters being a matter for a coastal state’s criminal jurisdiction under the label of armed robbery at sea. All other conditions being met, doubts arise whether the present situation conforms to the customary legal definition of piracy and warrants the import of international-level mechanisms of deterrence and repression.

In the light of these considerations, the UN intervention in the matter at this stage appears to derive principally from the absence of any locally coordinated resources and the need to engage regional cooperation. West African countries, much like East African countries, lack adequate legislative frameworks and enforcement capabilities, as well as logistics and know-how, to address piracy. In addition, they face the increasing threat of becoming a major route for narcotics and drug smuggling. It should be noted that local efforts are underway to counter piracy, including the creation of a piracy task force in Nigeria, coastline patrols in Nigeria and Benin and plans to convene an ad hoc summit to discuss a regional response

The UN counter-piracy strategy in West Africa is thus still at an embryonic stage. An initial point of concern is the immediate risk of resource fragmentation, with already a plethora of UN and regional agencies and organizations involved as possible stakeholders. Building upon the most recent Somali experience and the joint international efforts to tackle piracy, the UN seeks to preemptively mobilize leadership and coordinate resources to avoid the situation in the Gulf of Guinea spiraling further. This perhaps signals a shift from a traditional counter-piracy strategy to a more piracy-prevention oriented approach. Its success will very much depend upon its capacity to include and assess the broader social, political and economic causes feeding piracy.