Thank you. Mr. President, particularly for organizing and chairing this debate. I also want to thank Under Secretary-General Pascoe, Mr. Abdel Musa of ECOWAS, and Ms. Florentina Ukonga of the Gulf of Guinea Commission—all for their briefings.
The United States believes that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea requires the strongest possible regional response, with international help. That is why, since 2007, the U.S. has provided approximately $35 million in assistance to regional states to build maritime security capacity, including coastal radars, equipment, boats, and associated training. The United States is committed to working with our African and other international partners through programs like the Africa Partnership Station and the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership. It is worth noting that Obangame Express 2012 – a regional Gulf of Guinea maritime exercise to help local forces improve their capabilities to counter illicit maritime activities – will conclude in the coming days. This exercise includes participation from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome & Principe, Togo, Benin, and Republic of Congo, as well as non-African partners.
There can be no doubt that the situation has become more grave. The impact of maritime crime on local economies is staggering. By one estimate, the West African subregion loses $2 billion annually to maritime attacks – a high price for a region with extensive development needs and already fragile economies. Benin saw a 70-percent decrease in the number of ships entering the port of Cotonou, following its designation as “high risk” by a maritime insurance company last August. And no price can be placed on the loss of life, as occured on February 13th when gunmen shot and killed the captain and chief engineer of a cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria.
The primary responsibility for patrolling and securing offshore areas, of course, rests with the countries of the Gulf of Guinea and, as the Secretary General’s report states, there is an urgent need for these countries to develop a comprehensive anti-piracy strategy for the entire region. No country has the capacity on its own to tackle maritime crime. Gulf of Guinea countries need to continue developing regional coordination mechanisms to address the lack of a collective surveillance system; the lack of a joint monitoring and patrolling arrangement; the absence of a sustainable process for equipping, funding and maintaining maritime infrastructure; the lack of a formalized information-gathering and exchange system; and inadequate legal frameworks.
The need to address corruption and strengthen law enforcement capabilities also cannot be overstated.
The Secretary-General’s report notes that “it is unlikely that the pilfered fuel, which subsequently resurfaces on the black market in the main ports along the Gulf of Guinea, is being stolen and distributed without the collusion of officials at the ports.”
Nigeria and Benin have undertaken joint patrols, as have Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome & Principe. This model should be extended to other countries of the Gulf of Guinea to ensure the problem is fully addressed rather than simply relocated. Cameroon’s experience offers both hope and a cautionary lesson. Thanks in part to the donation of equipment, training, and materiel by partners—but in large part through its own efforts— Cameroon reduced the number of instances of maritime crime in its waters from 40 in 2009 to eight in the first eight months of 2011. This was done by focusing on the highest-risk areas in its territorial waters. But while mitigating the risk within Cameroonian waters, this success appears to have caused much of the illegal activity to shift farther north and west, underscoring the need for a regional approach.
As this Council urged in UNSCR 2018, a summit of Gulf of Guinea heads of state should be convened to develop a comprehensive response in the region and to encourage members of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of Central African States, and the Gulf of Guinea Commission to devise a united strategy.
The international community has a role to play in supporting these national and regional efforts. We welcome the suggestion, detailed in the Secretary General’s report, for the United Nations to play a supporting facilitation, and coordination role with respect to Gulf of Guinea piracy and maritime armed robbery, supplementing regional organizations’ leading role.
Piracy and maritime armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea have threatened the economies, governments and people of the region for far too long. National and regional political will, with the support of the international community, will be critical to long-term success in reversing this threat.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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