Thank you, Madame President. And let me join others in thanking you for convening this important session. We want to convey our gratitude, as well, to the Secretary-General, to General Touré, and to Mrs. Ukonga for their very important briefings.
Madame President, today’s meeting is both timely and important. In recent years, the number of reported incidents of piracy and maritime armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea has increased alarmingly. While attacks are underreported, we do know that, in this year alone, at least two dozen maritime armed robbery and piracy attacks were reported in the Gulf of Guinea, with a particularly sharp increase in incidents off the coast of Benin.
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. Maritime attacks have included assaults on coastal cities and even an attack on the presidential palace in Malabo, the coastal capital of Equatorial Guinea. Illicit maritime trafficking of goods, drugs, and persons also undermines governance and unravels the fabric of fragile societies.
The impact of maritime crime on local economies is substantial. It has become a crippling problem in countries including Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana and Nigeria. Militants in the Niger Delta have demonstrated the capacity to reach offshore oil facilities in recent years, threatening the secure supply of the over 2 million barrels of oil that emanate from that region every day. The increasing frequency of attacks against the shipping sector in Benin is a particular concern.
Beyond its impact on the oil sector, by one estimate, attacks on off-shore oil facilities result in the estimated loss of $2 billion annually to the broader regional economy, including the fishing industry and commercial shipping, which is obviously a very high price for a region with urgent development needs and fragile economies. In early July, excuse me, in early August, only 50 ships were at anchor in Cotonou’s port—instead of the usual 150—and Benin has experienced a dramatic drop in the customs fees and other port revenues on which the government relies for 55 percent of its revenue.
There are important differences, thus far, between piracy and maritime attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and those along the coast of Somalia. In the Gulf of Guinea, attackers primarily seek to steal valuable commodities which are often sold illicitly in West and Central Africa. Cargo and valuables are what the attackers typically want—not necessarily the ships, themselves, or the crew and passengers. Somali pirates usually strike on the high seas, then utilize safe havens onshore, where they hold ships and people hostage. In the Gulf of Guinea, criminals often operate closer to shore, usually with a goal of robbery rather than hostage-taking, and have mainly left crews and passengers unharmed.
Clearly, the primary responsibility for patrolling and securing territorial waters rests with individual countries in the region. Each country should make maritime security a national priority, both as a matter of law enforcement and to enable continued economic development.
Yet the international community, too, must do more to support regional and national efforts. The United States supports the work ECOWAS and the Economic Community of Central African States to strengthen coordination among countries in the region. Since 2007, the United States has provided approximately $35 million in coastal radars, equipment, boats, and associated maritime security training to our West and Central African partners.
The United States is committed to collaborating with our African and other international friends to build national and regional maritime capacity through programs like the Africa Partnership Station and the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership. Earlier this year, in exercises hosted by ECCAS, the United States Navy worked with Belgium, Cameroon, France, Gabon, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, the Republic of Congo, and Spain to help local forces improve their capacity to counter illicit maritime activities. These and other African Partnership Station activities will strengthen regional maritime coordination and improve maritime safety and security in Africa.
These are just a few examples of international support to the region’s maritime security efforts. In order to strengthen international assistance in the region, we would all benefit from additional insight and information. The United States therefore welcomes the Secretary-General’s decision to send a fact-finding team to the Gulf of Guinea, and we look forward to receiving his report. We hope it will contain important insights about how to build national and regional capacity to counter maritime security threats and to strengthen the maritime sector as a whole.
The scourge of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has threatened the economies, governments and peoples of the region for far too long. Now is time for the states of the region, with the close support of the international community, to work together to address this threat effectively.
Thank you, Madame President.
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