US Welcomes UN Assessment of maritime piracy in West Africa


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling for countries and regional organizations in West Africa’s Gulf of Guinea to develop a comprehensive strategy to combat maritime piracy, which he says threatens to hinder economic development and undermine security in the region.

“The threat is compounded because most Gulf states have limited capacity to ensure safe maritime trade, freedom of navigation, the protection of marine resources and the safety and security of lives and property,” Ban told the UN Security Council during an October 19 debate on piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.

He was joined by US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice, who called the meeting “both timely and important.”
“The scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has threatened the economies, governments and peoples of the region for far too long,” Ambassador Rice said in remarks to the council October 19. She added that in 2011 alone, more than two dozen maritime armed robbery and piracy attacks were reported in the Gulf, AFRICOM reports.
“Such attacks — whether within territorial waters or on the high seas — threaten regional and maritime security and the safety of seafarers, as well as impede economic growth across West and Central Africa,” Rice said.

Rice said maritime crime has a substantial impact on local economies and has become a “crippling problem” for countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria. She said attacks on offshore oil facilities alone result in an estimated loss of $2 billion annually to the regional economy, including the fishing industry and commercial shipping.

High-seas piracy transcends national boundaries and economic interests, and has a “negative impact on West Africa’s trade with the rest of the world, especially with its principal trading partners in the Americas, Asia and Europe,” Ban said.

Rice said patrolling and securing territorial waters rests primarily with the individual countries in the region and called on them to make maritime security a top national priority. However, she said, the international community must also do more to support regional and national efforts.

She welcomed Ban’s decision to send a UN assessment mission to the Gulf of Guinea in November to examine the scope of the threat and to make recommendations on an anti-piracy strategy. The United Nations said the mission will comprise representatives from its departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations, offices for West and Central Africa and Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as the International Maritime Organization.

Rice said the United States is committed to supporting this work and to working with regional programs to strengthen coordination among West and Central African countries. She said the United States has also provided approximately $35 million in support for coastal radar, equipment, boats and associated maritime security training to West and Central African countries since 2007. Additionally, she said the US Navy held joint exercises earlier in 2011 with countries across the region to help local forces improve their capacity to counter illicit maritime activities.

Ban praised these efforts and called for a continued holistic approach to countering the problem, “focusing simultaneously on security, the rule of law and development,” that addresses the roots of maritime piracy as well as deterrence both on land and at sea.