posted on Fri 22 Apr 2016 8:30 PM
Open Debate and Presidential Statement on Gulf of Guinea Piracy

On Monday (25 April), the Security Council will have an open debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun is expected to brief. The Council will adopt a presidential statement at the meeting. China circulated an initial draft on 14 April, and after one meeting on 15 April, members provided further comments by email. The draft passed the silence procedure this morning.

China is organising this debate together with Angola and Senegal. The three members circulated a concept note earlier this month (S/2016/321). The purpose of the open debate is in part to refocus member states’ attention on Gulf of Guinea piracy. It has been four years since the Council has had a dedicated session on the issue, and almost three years since it adopted a presidential statement welcoming the outcomes of a June 2013 summit of West and Central African heads of state and government on maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea held in Yaoundé, Cameroon,where they agreed on a regional anti-piracy strategy. Implementation of these decisions and of the Integrated Maritime Security Strategy has been slow, constrained by inadequate financial resources and the lack of capacity of regional states. This point is highlighted in the concept paper and in the Secretary-General’s last report on West Africa (S/2015/1012), which noted that none of the regional centres envisioned by the strategy were fully operational. The debate therefore seeks to draw attention to the need for the international community to provide support to the region for building its capacity to address the piracy threat.

Despite this slow progress, incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea have declined since the Council began considering the issue, according to data maintained by the International Maritime Bureau. It reported 35 attacks and attempted attacks last year, compared to a high of 62 in 2012. As the pirates generally target oil tankers, the decline in attacks could be linked to the drop in oil prices, making piracy less profitable, and could possibly be reversed once oil prices rise. Moreover, as noted by the concept paper, there is concern that the scope of attacks has been expanding further up the coast of West Africa and southward to the waters of Angola, as well as over the increase in hostage-taking and ransom demands.

Zerihoun will probably focus on what the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) and the UN Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) are doing to support regional efforts. Zerihoun is further expected to provide an update on the bringing into full operation the Inter-regional Coordination Centre (ICC) established in 2014, and to highlight the need to do more for the two regional centres. He may refer to the Extraordinary High-level Meeting on the ICC organised by ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States and the Gulf of Guinea Commission from 8 to 12 February 2016 in Yaoundé, which the UN attended.

The concept note encourages members to focus their statements on a number of topics. These include considering how to help regional countries implement the Integrated Maritime Security Strategy and bring existing mechanisms into operation as soon as possible; how to strengthen regional countries’ capacities; the roles and comparative advantage of regional organisations and the UN; and best practices and experiences of other regions in combatting piracy relevant to strengthening efforts in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Council’s draft presidential statement reflects the concerns of the three members involved in organising the debate. It encourages regional states, regional organisations and international partners to make fully operational the Gulf of Guinea counter-piracy mechanisms as soon as possible. It further urges the international community to assist with funds and other forms of capacity building support. The draft statement welcomes the AU’s plan to hold a summit on maritime security in Lomé, Togo, in October, which it encourages the international community to participate in and to support.

Negotiations on the statement seem to have been fairly straightforward, and the changes were largely technical. Some members were uncomfortable over initial language that appeared to support establishing a new trust fund. They noted that there is already a maritime security trust fund for West and Central Africa under the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and they preferred that the Council’s statement focus on supporting this already existing structure. As a result, the final text only mentions the IMO-established fund. Regarding follow-up reporting by the Secretary-General to the Council, several members expressed concern that the draft statement could be interpreted as setting up a new reporting cycle. The draft put under silence states that updates on the further strengthening of the region’s counter-piracy capacity be included in the regular UNOWAS and UNOCA reporting cycles.