Security threats at sea need global response

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Despite an overall decrease in maritime traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, piracy and armed robbery of ships rose by 20 % in the first six months of last year, a senior UN official told the Security Council.

Addressing a high-level debate on enhancing seafarer security, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, UN Secretary-General Chef de Cabinet, highlighted the need for stronger international co-operation.

Incidents in Asia nearly doubled, while West Africa, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and the South China Sea were the most affected areas, she said.

“Unprecedented” levels of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea and more recently in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea are also concerning.

“Maritime insecurity is compounding the terrorist threat from the Sahel,” Viotti told ambassadors.

“These growing and inter-linked threats call for a global and integrated response. A response addressing these challenges directly as well as their root causes including poverty, a lack of alternative livelihoods, insecurity and weak governance structures.”

Maritime security is further undermined by challenges around contested boundaries and navigation routes as well as depletion of natural resources through illegal or unreported fishing Viotti said.

The meeting, held via videoconference, was an opportunity to further advance global action on a vital but complex issue as all countries are affected, be they coastal or landlocked.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said oceans are “a shared global commons” and the “lifeline” of international trade.  The UN estimates over three billion people worldwide, mainly in developing countries, depend on oceans for their livelihood and well-being.

“Today this common maritime heritage faces various threats. Maritime routes are misused for piracy and terrorism. There are maritime disputes between countries. Climate change and natural disasters are further challenges to the maritime domain.”

Viotti highlighted legal instruments upholding maritime security, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“This framework is only as strong as countries’ commitment to full and effective implementation. We need to translate commitment into action.”

The UN welcomed moves by the international community to strengthen co-operation on maritime security.  The world body supports regional initiatives, including fighting piracy off Somalia and cutting down on armed robbery of ships in Asia.

UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) chief executive Ghada Waly reported a 2009 programme, established to address the Somali piracy threat, is now its largest initiative with a budget that has grown from $300 000 to over $230 million.

The Global Maritime Crime Programme encompasses 170 personnel in 26 countries who provide capacity building and support for legal reform, simulated trials and maritime training centres.

The UN agency chief encouraged the Security Council to take action on implementing the related legal framework, building capabilities, expanding partnerships and promoting crime prevention response.

“Pirates, criminals and terrorists exploit poverty and desperation to seek recruits, gain support and find shelter. To counter these threats we need to raise awareness and educate people, especially youth, while providing alternative livelihoods and support for local businesses,” Waly said.