UN welcomes Gulf of Guinea piracy drop, but sees new threat

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A senior United Nations official on Tuesday welcomed a substantial decrease in piracy incidents this year in the Gulf of Guinea, the world’s top hot spot for such attacks, but warned that pirate groups may be moving into more lucrative maritime crimes.

“The threat of piracy has cost the region lives, stability, and over $1.9 billion in financial losses every year,” Ghada Waly, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told the U.N. Security Council. “We must prevent the threat from simply taking a different form.”

According to new UNODC research, pirates may be moving into criminal oil bunkering — providing fuel to ships — as well as theft and smuggling, Waly said.

Law enforcement authorities in the 19 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea need support to combat “different forms of trafficking and illegal oil refining as well as illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing among others,” she said.

To close down options for criminals at sea, she said, the UNODC suggests that the region develop a framework to expand cooperation among Gulf of Guinea countries.

In a report to the Security Council circulated Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the number of cases of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, including kidnapping for ransom, decreased from 123 in 2020 to 45 in 2021.

This trend has continued in 2022, with the Interregional Coordination Center reporting 16 incidents of maritime crime between January and June, the U.N. chief said. Data from the International Maritime Organization’s Integrated Shipping Information System backs that trend, showing 13 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea during the same period.

Guterres said a number of factors have helped, including piracy convictions in Nigeria and Togo last year and what he called the “deterrent effects” of increased naval patrols by Nigeria and numerous other countries from the region and around the world.

The assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Martha Pobee, who focuses on Africa, echoed Waly’s concerns that criminal networks may have recently shifted from piracy to other forms of maritime crime, which she said they “likely view as both less risky and more profitable.”

It is therefore “imperative,” she said, that regional groups accelerate efforts to establish “a stable and secure maritime environment” in the Gulf of Guinea.

Pobee said it is also important to address social and economic conditions that make the region ripe for maritime crimes, such as youth unemployment and inadequate access to public services.

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