The threat posed by maritime piracy is as old as maritime commerce. Indeed, it is as old as civilization. The earliest histories from ancient Egypt, around 1300 BCE, talk of the difficulties caused by stateless pirates. For millennia, piracy has been a profitable — if illegal and dangerous — occupation in settings beyond the effective rule of law, jeopardizing trade and the lives of legitimate seafarers. It also fuels crime on land, such as slavery and the drug trade. Sadly, one of New Zealand’s most distinguished sons, the yachtsman Sir Peter Blake, died at the hands of pirates.
In today’s world, maritime piracy is a significant challenge in places as far apart as the Gulfs of Aden and Guinea, the Straits of Malacca and the South American coast. The estimated cost to the shipping industry and Governments is around $7 billion each year. Today’s debate is therefore a very timely opportunity to reflect on what we have learned about effective ways to prevent and combat the modern version of this ancient scourge, and about the further action that is still required of the international community.
In some parts of the world, efforts to tackle international piracy are starting to bear fruit. We welcome in particular the significant drop in reported piracy off the coast of Somalia and elsewhere over the past year. The International Maritime Bureau reported 219 cases of pirates trying to board vessels in 2010 and 236 in 2011, but this year just 71. Successful seizures are down from 49 in 2010 to 28 in 2011 and only 13 this year. That results from robust international efforts and shows what can be achieved with a comprehensive, adequately resourced regional strategy involving all affected parties within the region and beyond.
Let us be blunt. Those results also show that pirates do not want to die in a firefight. They seek easy pickings and will be deterred only by force, by the rule of law and by building societies that give better opportunities than those offered by crime. In that regard, we particularly commend the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
New Zealand is a small, maritime trading nation. For us, free and secure navigation is of fundamental importance, and so we have been willing to play a role in counter-piracy activities. Last year, off the coast of Somalia, New Zealand contributed the Force Commander and other staff officers to Combined Task Force 151, and, more recently, provided key personnel to assist Combined Task Force 150’s counter-terrorism and security efforts.
But even though we are definitely going in the right direction, and recent gains notwithstanding, it is clear that the task of ending piracy off Somalia is far from complete and that sustained international effort is still required to counter this international menace and assist its victims. For example, despite the reduced incidence of attacks, many captured crews are still being held for ransom, including many, I believe, from your country, Mr. President.
Moreover, we have yet to tackle seriously the challenges outlined in the Secretary-General’s report (S/2012/783) on accountability for piracy, particularly by establishing specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and neighbouring countries. The detention, prosecution and imprisonment of pirates in the absence of an effective national judicial system all raise complex legal and jurisdictional issues, although we should not forget what we have already agreed under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides a very solid foundation on which to build. We commend countries such as Kenya, Yemen, India, Tanzania, Seychelles and others that have already assumed heavy burdens on this, and those others that have offered assistance. We echo Tanzania’s call for a sustainable solution to this legal dilemma, both for Somalia and for future, similar situations.
Somalia’s example contrasts starkly with that of the Gulf of Guinea, where piracy incidents have increased exponentially over the past year. So far, piracy in that region has attracted less attention and has been less disruptive to shipping than it has been in the Gulf of Aden. Even so, we hope that the same level of international solidarity and support shown to Somalia and its neighbours can be extended to the Gulf of Guinea before that situation worsens any further. We must all stand ready to respond vigorously to piracy wherever it occurs and whenever assistance is sought by affected countries. There is no alternative. Piracy thrives whenever the will and the means to prevent it wavers.
The experience of Somalia also makes clear that security solutions alone are not sufficient to solve this multidimensional problem. Indeed, even 2,000 years ago, when Pompey swept the Mediterranean clean of pirates, it was recognized that the ultimate solution lay in providing better alternative sources of income and other forms of employment. Piracy cannot be tackled effectively, much less prevented, without due consideration of the factors that give birth to it and feed it. There is no doubt that, in Somalia, two decades without a functioning State; two decades without any effective rule of law; and more than two decades of ruthless, often illegal exploitation of its resources by external actors all helped lead former Somali fishermen to lives of piracy. The international community has much to learn from its long neglect of the Somali crisis, and that same international community must know that conditions conducive to piracy will remain until peace, security and the rule of law have been restored and Somalis are given the opportunity for genuine, domestically based social and economic development.
New Zealand welcomes recent international initiatives, such as the on-going efforts of the African Union, through the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to support Somali partners in re-establishing effective sovereignty in Somalia. We call on the Council and on international partners to effectively support those efforts, including by assisting AMISOM to more effectively control Somalia’s coastal waters and building the longer-term capacity of Somali authorities to police those waters themselves.
The past decade has revealed both the grave threat piracy continues to pose in today’s globalized world and how it can be countered through concerted regional and international action. But there is still much more that can and must be done to counter piracy wherever it occurs and to address the conditions on which it thrives.