Security Council: Transnational Organized Crime at Sea

Note:  A complete summary of today's Security Council meeting will be made available after its conclusion.


YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), via video-teleconference from Vienna, said that transnational marine crime has become increasingly sophisticated.  The Office is working with Member States to counter the smuggling of migrants and terrorist material, and attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden.  Its work also focuses on curbing cocaine trafficking in the Atlantic, heroin trafficking in the Indian Ocean, piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, illegal fishing worldwide and migrant smuggling in the Mediterranean.

“These crimes pose an immediate danger to people’s lives and safety, they undermine human rights, hinder sustainable development, and as this Council has recognized, they threaten international peace and security,” Mr. Fedotov said.  Underscoring the critical role of various United Nations instruments in curbing this scourge, he stressed the importance of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocols, the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation.  Since maritime crime involves vessels, cargoes, crews and illicit money flows from many regions, UNODC’s working methods must be innovative, efficient and effective.  Hence, the work of the Office spans from the seas to coast guard offices, courtrooms and prisons.

The UNODC continues to support trials in Kenya and Seychelles, as well as the humane and secure imprisonment of convicted pirates, Mr. Fedotov continued.   The Office recently completed the first phase of the Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex, which will be handed over shortly to the Federal Government of Somalia and which will provide a secure environment for the trial of those suspected of maritime crime.  Such activities are implemented with the support of the European the Union Naval Forces, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other partners in the commercial maritime sector.  UNODC is also working to secure the container trade supply chain, as it also more broadly focuses on countering terrorism, and the trafficking of migrants and firearms.  He urged Member States to facilitate mutual legal assistance to address the expansion of transnational organized crime at sea, through ratification and effective use of the international legal framework.  Member States must also enhance technical assistance to one another to ensure that criminal kingpins are brought to justice.

FLORENTINA ADENIKE-UKONGA, Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, said the Commission — a cooperation mechanism — was established in 2001 to ensure that the threats posed by transnational crimes at sea to economic well‑being and regional peace and security are reduced if not eliminated.  Noting that the region boasts natural hydrocarbon and living marine resources and is an important route connecting Africa with Europe and the Americas, she said its location makes it a viable area for criminals to pedal their illicit activities.  The Gulf faces increasing criminality, which has a destabilizing effect on the entire region and constitutes a threat to international peace and security.  Along some 6,000 miles of coastline, the area covers a wide expanse of water which no one country can successfully patrol; none has the capability to attempt such an assignment.  Hence, the Commission works to identify problems, compare notes, relate best practices, encourage member countries to secure their maritime borders and assist each other in such efforts through the pooling of resources.

In addition, through the creation of multinational coordination centres — notably in Duala — and regional maritime coordination centres, she said the Commission has pursued its goals and organized committees to collectively address common issues.  In 2018, it held two seminars that brought together experts and Governments to brainstorm ideas with a view to adopting best practices.  The respective themes covered “Governance of the Atlantic Ocean in the interests of peace, security and sustainable development of the Gulf of Guinea region” and “The Blue Economy in the interest of food security in the Gulf of Guinea region”.  A seminar covering maritime strategy will be held in Accra, Ghana, in March.

Noting that regional countries are taking measures to patrol their waters, she said transnational organized crime in the Gulf of Guinea can be reduced through more coordinated national, regional and international intervention.  Nationally, she recommended the resolution of disagreements with criminal perpetrators; the restoration of environment damaged by hydrocarbon exploitation; opportunities to curb youth restlessness; the political inclusion of marginalized people in multiracial and multitribal societies; Government commitment to campaign for hard work at home rather than illegal migration abroad; and the domestication and implementation of agreements signed on the suppression of criminal activities at sea, notably the Yaoundé Code of Conduct concerning the suppression of piracy, armed robbery against ships and illicit maritime activity in West and Central Africa.

At the regional level, she underscored the need for cooperation with neighbouring countries on suspicious movements; joint patrol of the maritime domain; mutualization of maritime assets for better policy implementation; the effective functioning of multinational coordination centres in Duala and elsewhere, as well as of the international coordination centre in Yaoundé.  At the international level, it was important for international parties to assist regional countries in carrying out poverty-reduction projects, she said, also advocating direct investment in facilities and infrastructure for the benefit of the population; actions to discourage illegal and unregulated fishing; actions to compel transnational companies to use best practices in the exploitation of resources; actions to establish mechanisms that punish the stealing of crude oil, as well as to ensure that the proceeds of such crimes are forfeited; and international mechanisms to address the dumping of toxic residues.  With that three-pronged approach, the threat of transnational organized crime at sea can be reduced or eradicated in the Gulf of Guinea, she asserted.


SIMEON OYONO ESONO ANGUE, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Equatorial Guinea, said illegal activities in African maritime space leads to loss of human life and gravely hinders industrial and economic development.  He commended international and regional efforts, including the African Union’s initiative to foster the development of a prosperous and sustainable “blue economy”.  The first phase of that project focuses on boosting cooperation, capacity-building and coordination within the continent.  Countries in Central and West Africa, including Equatorial Guinea, share the Gulf of Guinea, which is one of the largest and most populated geopolitical spaces on the continent.  Noting the important role of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, he said that Equatorial Guinea actively participates in a wide range of initiatives to normalize the security situation in the Gulf.

“The zone is essential for the survival of my country,” he said, noting various security agreements with neighboring countries, including Nigeria, in order to better protect mutual interests.  These efforts have achieved good results in terms of repressing piracy, the robbing of ships and illicit activities.  In September 2014, the Gulf of Guinea Commission set up an interregional coordination center, which is responsible for ensuring the application of the code of conduct.  Since then, Equatorial Guinea has contributed to the establishment, financing and operation of a vocational naval school, where officers from 20 African States have been trained.

“What is happening in the Gulf of Guinea is important for everyone here,” he continued, noting the region’s importance as a trade hub.  It is important for the global supply of energy.  It is also important for the African continent, as the diet of 40 per cent of its population depends on fisheries.  The only way of ensuring security at sea is by working together.  “If we do so, we will be able to make the most of the benefit the sea gives us,” he said.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France), underscoring the economic and social impact of maritime insecurity, emphasized his country’s commitment to addressing the problem in numerous regions, including the Gulf of Guinea, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, often in conjunction with regional and subregional organizations.  He recommended that UNODC play a central role in capacity-building in vulnerable States, focused on developing judicial and penal institutions within the framework of the rule of law.  He stressed the need for better coordination and information‑sharing among State actors, regional and international organizations, and economic and non-governmental partners, including the maritime industry.  Ambitious development polices can meanwhile provide alternatives to coastal populations, he said.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), noting that the port of Antwerp is the biggest maritime hub for trade between Europe and Africa, said growing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a concern for his country.  Such a multidimensional challenge calls for a global and integrated strategy.  He reviewed Belgium’s efforts to combat piracy, including the deployment of naval vessels off the Horn of Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea.  To combat maritime drug trafficking through the port of Antwerp, local and federal police officers, customs agents and prosecutors work under the same roof to better exchange information and strengthen their effectiveness.  National efforts will be in vain, however, without genuine regional and international cooperation, he said, emphasizing also the need to address root causes such as deteriorating economic conditions.

NAME TO COME (Russian Federation) shared concerns about international criminal groups and their work on the high seas, citing illegal migration, as well as the illegal trade in drugs and weapons, and human trafficking.  He expressed particular concern over robberies where Russian citizens have been taken hostage on ships.  As establishing systemic work to stop criminal activity is not easy, he welcomed efforts by the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal justice in Vienna, among other bodies, citing the Contact Group on Piracy of the Coast of Somalia as an example of a successful regional format and welcoming UNODC’s provision of specialized technical assistance to interested States upon request.  While welcoming the strengthening of the United Nations coordination role, he nonetheless advocated the creation of a universal inter-State coordination body, under the United Nations aegis and with a broad geographic remit, which would make it easier to resolve new threats on the high seas.  In the Council’s discussions, aspects of piracy and robbery at sea worldwide have been highlighted.  Close attention has also been paid to conflict, terrorism and transnational organized crime, including the illegal trade in weapons.  The Council has developed a serious legal basis in all such areas.  At same time, there are areas where its potential is not so clear, he said, cautioning that questions could be raised if the Council addresses illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing or maritime environmental degradation and assuring delegates of his country’s commitment to cooperate with collective efforts to overcome such threats.

NAME TO COME (United States) said “we all have a stake in stopping crime at sea” and all countries should be employing all social, diplomatic, law enforcement, judicial and other tools to combat it.  All countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime should redouble their efforts to implement it.  He urged all those that have yet to ratify it to do so and thus ensure that transnational criminals can be easily prosecuted.  He cited several resolutions to promote maritime security, notably resolutions 1816 (2008), which led to the deployment of international naval forces off the Somalia coast; 2036 (2012) banning the export of Somali charcoal; 2216 (2015) establishing a targeted arms embargo against those threatening security in Yemen; 2375 (2017) banning ship-to-ship transfers of goods to or from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea; and 2397 (2017) on seizing and impounding ships found to be violating sanctions.  In addition, capacity-building is vital to addressing maritime security.  In support of the 2013 Yaoundé process, the United States works with UNODC and INTERPOL to assist countries in the Gulf of Guinea, he said, citing its involvement in joint maritime exercises to combat offshore illicit activities.

NAME TO COME (Côte d’Ivoire) said his country had been confronted by persistent maritime security threats, underscoring the importance of the maritime sector.  Maritime piracy compromises economic and social development in the region.  A decrease in vessel attacks between 2013 and 2015 had brought hope that the region was exiting the crisis,  However, such attacks, mainly against merchant vessels, increased in 2018.  The number of piracy acts between Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo has more than doubled.  Other violent acts have also increased, he said, citing hostage taking at sea and kidnappings.  Piracy also affects the safety of port infrastructure — an economic driver.  States in the region recognize the need for a long-term response, with resolution 2039 (2012) encouraging them to devise a regional strategy.  Towards that end, at the 2013 Summit of Gulf of Guinea, Heads of State and Government on Maritime Security, Governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission adopted a code of good conduct and signed a memorandum of understanding.

Noting that the centre in Cameroon was designed to coordinate with other such centres, especially in Abidjan, he said these efforts are in harmony with the 2050 Africa's Integrated Maritime Strategy and complemented by the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, adopted in 2014.  State capacity in logistic and operational terms must be reinforced, particularly through greater cooperation, as such strategies will not succeed without strong national capacities.  “We’re guided by this conviction,” he said, noting that Côte d’Ivoire has devised a national action plan to ensure that the seas serve its economic development.  In addition, Côte d’Ivoire, in opening a regional maritime centre for West Africa, demonstrated its commitment to fighting such crimes.  He welcomed efforts by regional States to build national capacity in harmony with the African Union and its international partners, stressing that such actions must be based on cooperation, collaboration and coordination.

NAME TO COME (Germany) said, if unchecked, illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea could destabilize the entire region.  “We can and should do more,” he stressed, calling on the international community to build on solid regional efforts.  For its part, Germany has been active in the region, including through contributing financing to four regional coordination centres.  The European Union has also supported maritime security programmes in the Gulf of Guinea and remains engaged in security efforts in the Horn of Africa.  “Regional ownership in this context is key,” he continued, adding that curbing maritime crime requires looking at the root causes.  Without any legal sources of income, young people can easily become attracted to illicit markets.

NAME TO COME (Dominican Republic) urged the international community to coordinate appropriate action to piracy, armed robbery, and migrant and drug trafficking.  “Here the availability of adequate resources and cooperation are essential,” he continued.  The drug trafficking figures, particularly concerning cocaine, heroin and opioids, are alarming.  In the United States alone, opioids claimed the lives of almost 48,000 people in 2017.  Beyond the risks to public health, the transnational trafficking of drugs poses a major threat to the economy.  It is essential to deal with the root causes that lead the participation of young people in transnational organized crime.  That includes limited opportunity for development, he added.

NAME TO COME (China) said that oceans are a treasure house of resources.  Pirate attacks and trafficking in arms, drugs and persons remain rampant.  Illegal activities in the Gulf of Guinea remain grim and continue to hinder the economic and social development of the region.  China will continue to support concerned countries in their efforts to crack down on transnational organized crime at sea.  Moreover, the international community should actively engage in the construction, operation and maintenance of ports and other infrastructure of coastal States.  It is also important to support coastal States and countries in capacity-building of security sectors.  He called on the international community to support the African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other regional organizations.  To mobilize resources and strengthen international cooperation, relevant agencies should be open to exchanging information and assisting in criminal trials.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) said that, as the world’s largest archipelagic country, his nation understands that transnational organized crime must be collectively addressed, as its detrimental impacts are neither isolated nor local, but increasingly regional and global in nature.  Criminal groups do not solely operate in countries with weak law enforcement or governance, but rather exploit the finer features of the global economy:  banking, trade and communication networks among them.  He advocated for a better understanding of the nature and threat of transnational organized crimes, and encouraged the Council to ask the Secretary-General for a report identifying options for enhancing cooperation.  National prosecutorial and enforcement capability should be strengthened, he said, stressing the critical role of regional mechanisms as first responders to such crimes at sea, and citing the Malacca Strait Patrols by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in that regard.  Crimes related to fisheries entail criminal, as well as human rights aspects, he added, as many vessels committing crimes are also implicated in the forced labour of trafficked persons.