Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has hit the global news agenda at last, after African leaders signed an anti-piracy code and as the issue dominated discussions at the International Maritime Organization’s 92nd Maritime Safety Committee.
Although West African piracy is not new, it has been overshadowed for the last few years by attacks off east Africa.
Now, however, as pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden face a combined offensive from international efforts, best management practices, capacity building and guns on ships, the world has turned its attention to attacks off West Africa.
The African leaders agreed a code of conduct to adopt a regional strategy against piracy and other illegal maritime activities off West Africa.
Some in the shipping industry hoped the two-day meeting of the Economic Community of Central African States, the Economic Community of West African States and the Gulf of Guinea Commission would end with an agreement to allow international armed guards to operate in regional waters.
Instead, the leaders signed a code that defines a regional strategy and paves the way for a legally binding instrument. They also called for support from international navies for the fight against piracy.
The code was adopted formally by the 13 West African and Central African heads of state who met in Yaoundé, Cameroon, last week. It covers 22 signatory states (see list below).
At June’s MSC meeting, Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast called on the United Nations or other naval forces to patrol the Gulf of Guinea and demanded increased surveillance before the problem worsened.
Nigeria also urged states not to buy stolen Nigerian oil.
IMO secretary-general Koji Sekimizu welcomed the African states’ signing the anti-piracy code of conduct for West and Central Africa.
He said the code incorporated many elements of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, signed by 20 states in the western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden area.
Signatories to the code intend to co-operate to prevent piracy and armed robbery against ships, as well as transnational organised crime in the maritime domain, maritime terrorism, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and other illegal activities at sea.
Funding has come from the IMO’s global maritime security capacity-building programme, with particular support from the governments of Norway and the US.
The IMO is to publish guidance on the Gulf of Guinea, released by a roundtable of shipping associations in December, as an official MSC circular. It is also establishing a trust fund that Mr Sekimizu said will support an capacity-building programme in West and Central Africa.
“This will better enable us to continue to co-operate with our colleagues in the United Nations system and other international and regional development partners for the benefit of safe, secure and sustainable development of the African maritime sector,” he said.
Mr Sekimizu has written to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, highlighting the importance of the IMO’s work on maritime security and requesting his support and co-operation.
Mr Ban also welcomed the regional strategy against piracy in West and Central Africa. He commended the participants for their efforts to address and prevent piracy, “which remains a serious threat to the security and economic activities of the affected countries”.
He encouraged all member states of the region to sign and implement the code of conduct and called on bilateral, regional and international partners to provide the necessary resources.
A spokesman for Mr Ban said the UN would continue to support this process, not least through the secretary-general’s special representatives for Central and West Africa.
Mr Ban also recalled that less than two years ago, the UN Security Council issued its first resolution on this issue, calling on countries of the Gulf of Guinea to develop a comprehensive response to piracy and armed robbery at sea.
“You have met this challenge head-on,” he said, stressing the international community’s collective responsibility to prevent the situation escalating.
“We must strengthen our efforts and co-operate even more closely.”
• Cape Verde
• Ivory Coast
• The Democratic Republic of the Congo
• Equatorial Guinea
• Sierra Leone
• Sao Tome and Principe
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