General Assembly Informal Meeting on Piracy
Global character of piracy and the crucial role of the UN and co-operation amongst Member states in combating the scourge
Statement by Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos,
Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization
United Nations Headquarters, New York
14 May 2010
Mr. President, Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished moderators, panellists and delegates, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to be given the opportunity to address this informal meeting of the General Assembly and moderate this panel session. Congratulations are due to the President of the General Assembly for his initiative to convene this meeting.
As the Secretary-General said this morning, piracy is a global problem, but it is also an old one. Innocent seafarers have faced its dangers since mankind first crossed the oceans. And it is, therefore, a genuine anathema in the 21st century that the threat of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships is as pernicious, today, as at any time in history.
Piracy has, for many centuries, been regarded as a universal crime - now codified as such in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea - and, while extremely worrying because of the traumatic impact it has on seafarers on board highjacked ships and the consequences on shipping and seaborne trade, it is heartening that its recent escalation has mobilized the international community in a concerted effort to prevent and repress it, wherever it may occur.
In recent years, we have witnessed this scourge in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore and the Gulf of Guinea. But it is its increasing frequency and ferocity off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden - now extending into the wider Indian Ocean - that has galvanized public attention and a determined, multilateral response without precedent.
The problem of piracy is damaging on several levels. For those, who find themselves actually subject to attack - typically seafarers, fishermen or passengers - the danger to life, the prospect of captivity and even the stress of having to sail through known hot-spots, are things that no innocent civilian should have to bear during their normal working lives.
On a broader front, the interruption of aid to millions of people in Somalia, for example; the adverse effect of piracy on fishing and tourism in the western Indian Ocean region; the economic damage to the shipping industry; the possibility of disruption to international trade; the threat to energy supplies; the potential for environmental damage; and, perhaps most worryingly of all, the risk that funds generated from ransoms might be used to fuel political unrest and insurgency and, in the worst case, acts of terrorism, are all reasons why this has been recognized as a problem of global concern with ramifications extending beyond the piracy-infested regions.
IMO has addressed the phenomenon for some time, developing guidance for dealing with the threat as long ago as the 1980s and compiling and analyzing statistics, which helped us identify patterns and trends and adapt our guidance to the realities. We have also been promoting regional agreements for the implementation of counter-piracy measures. Indeed, we will hear shortly about the co-operation that, with IMO support, Asian nations have successfully established to combat piracy and armed robbery in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore; while, in West Africa, we are collaborating with regional States and institutions to create an integrated coast guard function, which will also address the issue.
And, since IMO first brought the situation off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden to the attention of the Security Council, in 2005, we and the maritime community have appreciated the unequivocal reaction of the Secretary-General, the Security Council and now the General Assembly, to our requests for support and action.
As I advised the Security Council, when addressing it in November 2008, our, IMO's, concerns in this case are threefold:
- one, to protect seafarers, fishermen and passengers on ships sailing through the affected waters;
- two, to ensure the safe delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia by ships chartered by the World Food Programme; and
- three, to preserve the integrity of the shipping lane through the Gulf of Aden, given its strategic importance and significance to shipping and trade, east and west of the Suez Canal.
In response, the Security Council has, with the consent of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, adopted a series of resolutions authorizing significantly important measures to repress piracy and armed robbery against ships off the country's coast, in a manner consistent with international law. The authorizations given in those resolutions have enabled political and defence alliances of States and regional organizations - including the European Union and NATO, in particular - as well as individual nations to dispatch naval forces and military aircraft to patrol the vast area off Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and in the wider Indian Ocean, and to escort vessels used by WFP to deliver humanitarian relief.
I would ask you to reflect on this, one of the greatest examples of international co-operation of all time, because it is possibly the first time in history that navies from countries so far and wide have converged in one area, joining forces in an unparalleled demonstration of solidarity, of how strongly the international community feels about the modern stigma of piracy, and of its determination to eradicate it. It is a signal achievement of the international community for which we should all pay due tribute.
The Security Council's actions have also led to the creation of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, in the various Working Groups of which several UN bodies play an active role.
The Contact Group's work has dovetailed effectively with IMO's own consideration of the piracy problem within our Maritime Safety and Legal Committees while our Assembly recently adopted a Code of Practice for the Investigation of the Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships - not to mention the mandatory security standards we introduced in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, most notably the adoption of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code.
In addition, our Legal Office is co-operating closely with the Contact Group's Judicial Issues Working Group - from whose Chairman, Ambassador Thomas Winkler, we heard this morning - in particular, for the compilation of national legislation on the arrest, prosecution, conviction and imprisonment of suspected pirates and armed robbers, and in providing, with other UN partners, technical assistance to countries to develop such legislation and the necessary judicial capacities.
Building capacity has been at the heart of IMO's work to promote regional co operation in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Our efforts culminated, in January 2009, with the formal adoption of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, which now has 14 signatory States, all united in the effort to implement the rule of law at sea and, together, build regional systems and infrastructure for information sharing, training, maritime situational awareness and legislative improvements. These, we expect, will help to reduce substantially the operation of pirates in the region, just as they did in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, where the experience gained is now serving as a template for the signatories to the Djibouti Code.
To promote the Code's full and effective implementation, IMO is co-operating with DOALOS, DPA, FAO, UNDP, UNODC and UNPOS from the UN System; the European Commission, EUROPOL, INTERPOL and ReCAAP-ISC at the multilateral level; individual States such as Japan, which has donated US$13.6 million to our Djibouti Code Trust Fund, as well as France, the Netherlands, Norway and the Republic of Korea, which have provided further contributions; and, last but by no means least, with the Code's signatories, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the local authorities of Puntland and Somaliland.
It emerges from the foregoing that the global character of piracy, and the imperative of combating it, make it essential that States continue establishing effective co operative mechanisms and that the UN System provides a leading, indeed, coordinating role. And, while we have recently witnessed - indeed, engendered - just such developments, let us not forget that the job is not yet done. As I speak, there are still 21 ships and 442 seafarers being held hostage in Somalia - and the numbers are growing with two ships, a Bulgarian chemical tanker and a Greek bulk carrier, totalling 39 seafarers yesterday reported to have been highjacked off Somalia.
Experience demonstrates that multilateral co operation arrangements, between and among States, regions and institutions, can provide the means to reduce the risk of unprovoked attacks on innocent ships, including through coordinated patrols in high-risk areas; information sharing and training; intelligence exchange; and hot pursuit, following attacks. Let us maintain and increase our efforts to do so.
It is, of course, acknowledged that the incidence of piracy off the coast of Somalia can only be stemmed when political stability, allowing the country to function as a State once again, is reinstated and the Government is able to exercise its jurisdiction. I am optimistic that the measures taken by the UN System with the Somali authorities, regional organizations and individual States will be successful in moving the political process in the country forward and helping it re-establish stability on land, all of which will, undoubtedly, contribute to the improvement of the situation with regard to piracy off its coast and in the Gulf of Aden.
To conclude: the international community must spare no effort to address the root causes of the problem promptly and comprehensively, involving the Somalis themselves in the first place, so that peace, stability, security and the conditions for sustainable development are re instated in this much-troubled land, to the benefit of its long suffering people.
Given the global character and global consequences of piracy, the co-operation of all parties concerned under the auspices of the United Nations is indispensable.