On Monday, the U.N. Security Council held an open debate on "Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea in the Gulf of Guinea" to discuss the escalating number of attacks in the region – as many as 30 so far this year, including several kidnappings.
Senegal's ambassador to the U.N., Fode Seck, told the hearing that "maritime crime in the Gulf of Guinea has broadened its scope and is no longer limited just to the oil sector," suggesting that smuggling and robbery were picking up as well.
Several representatives, including U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison, expressed concern about the potential for the proceeds of maritime crime to fund terrorist groups; but they also emphasized its harm to regional and international economies.
"As much as 400,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen each day in the Gulf of Guinea," Sison said, a figure that aligns with official estimates inclusive of on-shore pipeline oil theft. "By some estimates, Nigeria is losing about $1.5 billion a month due to piracy, armed robbery at sea, smuggling and fuel supply fraud."
She also noted that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing contributed to hundreds of milions in losses each year "for many countries and communities that depend on this sector."
Sison suggested that limited maritime law enforcement capacity was primarily responsible. "Maritime crime flourishes under ineffective or complicit governance structures, but is diminished when rule of law is effective. Absent African ownership and action from national and local governments to tackle maritime security challenges, there is little reason to believe that attacks in the Gulf of Guinea will decline," she said.
The ambassador is not alone in citing "complicit governance structures:" maritime security analysts PGI Intelligence recently suggested that government corruption could be a contributing factor in the attacks – many of which have occurred at long distances from shore, suggesting prior knowledge of vessel positions.
The Security Council adopted a statement calling for a "comprehensive regional framework to eradicate piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Guinea" by means of strengthening justice systems and judicial cooperation. It cited social factors – absence of stability, limited economic development and limited rule of law – as underlying causes of piracy, and called on states in the region to strengthen their maritime law enforcement capabilities and cooperation. Sison also called for the creation of a “maritime Zone E,” an area of focus for anti-piracy cooperation among the neighboring states.
Separately, a lawyer for Turkish shipping firm Kaptanoglu said Tuesday that the six kidnapped crewmembers of the tanker Puli, which was hijacked April 11 in the Gulf of Guinea, have been released. They are reported to be in good health. He did not discuss the terms negotiated with their captors.