UNSC Open Debate: Peace Consolidation in West Africa - Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea in the Gulf of Guinea

Ministry Statements & Speeches:

Delivered by Gerard van Bohemen Permanent Representative to the United Nations, 25 April 2016.

New Zealand commends China for convening this debate. We acknowledge Senegal and Angola for ensuring this important issue receives the Council’s sustained attention. We also thank Assistant Secretary General Zerihoun for his briefing. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is a serious drag on the economic development of the countries of the region and a serious threat to regional and international peace and security.    New Zealand is a maritime nation that exports to the world. Around 99% of our trade by volume is carried by merchant shipping. As such we understand the importance of effective maritime security to our wellbeing as well as to the stability of our region.

As highlighted by our Minister of Foreign Affairs during last year’s Open Debate on the Challenges Facing Small Island Developing States, we are a Pacific country with a significant stake in the peace and security of small island developing states in our region.

Many of the vulnerabilities that are faced by countries in the Gulf of Guinea are similar to those that SIDS encounter in the Pacific and elsewhere. Their capacity limitations make them a target for transnational criminal networks, including those involved in piracy.

One of the things we have learnt from our region in dealing with transnational organised crime is the crucial importance of effective cooperation and coordination between countries. Without this, criminal networks will simply move on and exploit the ‘weakest link’- those states that are least able to monitor and/or enforce crimes committed at sea.

Such cooperation must also extend internationally. The Royal New Zealand Navy frigates Te Mana and Te Kaha have participated in a multinational operations focused on counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia. The Royal New Zealand Airforce also participated in NATO’s counter-piracy Operation Ocean Shield.

In a rather different geography, last year we also worked closely with a number of West African countries to share information on vessels involved in IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean. This cooperation with West African coastal states is highly appreciated by New Zealand.

We recognise of course the scale of the problem in the Gulf of Guinea is much greater than any that has so far arisen in the South Pacific. It is deep-seated and pervasive, and it threatens not only the economies and security of the smaller states of the region but is also a major threat to the peace and stability of larger nations including even Nigeria. 

Piracy prospers where onshore governance is weak and the capacity of local authorities to monitor and maintain control over their maritime territories is limited. It is able to flourish because the pirates at sea have collaborators and collusionists on land.  In that sense, piracy degrades the cohesion and stability of coastal states by undermining governance, exacerbating instability and hampering development.

As we have said many times before in this chamber prevention is better than cure. In addition to enhancing security response to criminal activities at sea we need to address some of the roots causes of those issues.

One area that warrants particular attention is to ensure that coastal states can maximise the benefits from their natural resource base both at sea and on land - to ensure that people are able to make meaningful contributions to their own and their countries’ economic prosperity. This requires strong institutions, effective regulatory frameworks and strong political will. The inverse situation will simply inhibit sustainable economic development and propel the marginalised to consider other options for economic survival such as criminal activity.

In the Gulf of Guinea, much of the piracy problem has its roots in the long-standing grievances of marginalised groups in the Niger Delta and in the insidious links that have emerged between local insurgencies and cross-border criminal activity, particularly oil smuggling.

To enjoy success in the long term, counter-piracy efforts must be part of a more comprehensive approach to addressing the drivers of criminality and instability. As we learned in Somalia and elsewhere, it is vital that the necessary national and legal frameworks are in place to enable effective prosecution of those directly and indirectly involved in piracy. This means ensuring that countries of the region have the right legislation to prosecute and punish those who are apprehended, and this is backed by the necessary will at the senior levels of Government to take these steps.  It also requires frameworks for operational and legal cooperation. Within the Gulf of Guinea there are a number of sub regional bodies playing a positive role in tackling piracy at sea including ECOWAS, ECCAS and the Gulf of Guinea Commission.

We encourage further progress to operationalise the Inter-regional Coordination Centre in Yaoundé. This is an important step towards a joined up regional response to addressing maritime security including incidents of piracy at sea in what as others have said is a vast geographic area.

Finally, this Council can provide an ongoing international focus in support of the regional efforts. New Zealand is therefore a strong supporter of the Presidential Statement adopted today.


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