Thursday, February 7, 2019

Pirates, Drugs and People Smuggling - Maritime Crime is Getting More Sophisticated

First Debate on International Criminal Activity as Sea Focuses on Links with Terrorism
Shipping News Feature
ERITREA – WORLDWIDE – International maritime crime is becoming 'increasingly sophisticated' as criminal groups exploit jurisdiction and enforcement challenges on the high seas and pose 'immediate danger to people's lives and safety', the UN anti-drugs and crime chief warned the Security Council earlier this week. Speaking via video conference from UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) headquarters in Vienna, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC spotlighted the root causes of transnational organised crime at sea and the linkages between terrorism, piracy and illegal trafficking.

The UNODC Regional Office for Eastern Africa and the Government of Eritrea convened this first-ever regional workshop in Eritrea on strengthening international and regional police cooperation in Eastern Africa from 30 January to 1 February. The 3-day workshop was attended by senior criminal justice officials from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, INTERPOL's regional office for Eastern Africa and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Its programme included discussions around effective, timely and appropriate communication and sharing of information on transnational organised crime.

In briefing the Council’s first ever debate targeting the global challenge of transnational maritime crime, Fedotov explaining that two-thirds of the world’s surface is ocean whilst nearly all of that is beyond any State’s territorial waters and largely not subject to a single state criminal jurisdiction. He continued:

“The high seas are open for vessels of all countries, both coastal and landlocked, to support international trade and economic cooperation, contact among peoples and the responsible use of natural resources. However, in recent years the freedom of navigation is being exploited by criminal groups. Maritime crime by its nature involves vessels, cargoes, crews, victims and illicit money flows from many regions.”

He further added that the UNODC’s counter-piracy programme grew from its success off the coast of Somalia, which has been plagued by high-seas crimes such as piracy, robbery and smuggling. UNODC says that it continues to support trials in Kenya and Seychelles, as well as the humane and secure imprisonment of convicted pirates and has completed the first phase of the Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex, which will be handed over to the Somali Government shortly.

Fedotov said that through public/private cooperation, the UNODC has made advancements through the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crime, which coordinates the response to heroin and charcoal smuggling that is funding terrorist groups and the Contact Group on Maritime Crime in the Sulu and Celebes Sea.

The agency also supports inter-regional cooperation against criminal activities at sea, is working to secure the container trade supply chain and is combatting terrorism, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, wildlife and fisheries crime, firearms trafficking and emerging crimes. The UNODC Chief continued:

“All our work at sea, where jurisdiction is complex, crime is often committed unseen and enforcement is difficult, builds on UNODC s long experience and research expertise in addressing all forms of organised crime, terrorism and corruption.”

Fedotov emphasised the importance that countries ratify and implemen international commitments, including UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) and its protocols, and provide technical assistance.

For his part, Simeon Oyono Esono Angue, Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, which presides over the Council for the month of February, pointed out that in the last decade, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea accounted for 30% of attacks in African waters. Although a security threat, the Gulf also provides the resources that sustain Equatorial Guinea’s economy. Angue asked the African Union Commission, the United Nations and strategic partners represented in the meeting to support efforts to ensure peace and marine security, the fight against terrorism and piracy, and the sustainable development of the countries in the region.

Speaking via teleconference from the capital of Angola, Luanda, Florentina Adenike Ukonga, Executive Secretary, Gulf of Guinea Commission, also briefed the Council and focused on crime in the region identifying it ‘as a threat to world peace and security’.

Comprised of countries from Liberia to Angola, the Gulf of Guinea area encompasses a 6,000 kilometre coastline, which Ukonga called ‘a wide expanse of water that no country in the region can successfully patrol’, however, she did make some recommendations, saying:

“Transnational organised crime at sea in the Gulf of Guinea region can be reduced with a better and more coordinated intervention at national, regional and international levels.”

The event also highlighted the importance of enhancing legal frameworks and arrangements on joint operations and investigations, including digital and financial investigations, in line with the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC) and its supplementing Protocols. Johan Kruger, Head of Transnational Organised Crime, Illicit Trafficking and Terrorism Prevention Programmes for UNODC in Eastern Africa stated that transnational organised crime was by its very nature being committed across borders, with planning, recruiting, exploitation, movement of money and other illegal conduct by no means limited to a single country.

As such, no single jurisdiction could prevent, suppress or counter this crime effectively without continuous and committed international cooperation, and Mr Kruger pressed the point that that this meeting was far more than just another workshop, saying:

”This is a strong signal by the Member States in Eastern Africa, and especially the Horn of Africa, of their commitment to strengthen regional cooperation and coordination on countering transnational organised crime in an integrated and effective manner".

Colonel Mehari Tsegai, Commander of the Eritrean Police, said that no country in the world was immune from crime, and that Eastern Africa was facing these same challenges and threats, including that of human trafficking and smuggling of migrants as well as drug and small arms trafficking. He underlined that it was a joint responsibility of the countries of the region to secure the safety and security of their citizens. If these crimes were left unabated, they would threaten the social, economic and political stability of the region as a whole.

The colonel also reiterated that governments in Eastern Africa and their police forces needed to cooperate more closely to overcome threats posed by criminals across the region. The workshop was organised within the framework of the UNODC Regional Programme for Eastern Africa (2016-2021) and its sub-programme on Countering Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trafficking, including activities on ‘Strengthening the Human and Institutional Capacity of the Government of Eritrea to Fight against Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants’ funded by the United Kingdom, and the Better Migration Management (BMM) Programme, funded by the European Union and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).