Issuing Presidential Statement, Security Council Underlines Importance of Maritime Safety, Safeguarding Oceans for Legitimate Use
Maritime security is being undermined at an alarming pace by challenges around contested boundaries, the depletion of natural resources and armed attacks — from piracy to terrorism — senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, as world leaders adopted a presidential statement outlining their concerns over the increasing frequency of such events.
In a presidential statement (document S/PRST/2021/15) presented by the Prime Minister of India, Council President for August, the 15-member organ noted the problem of transnational organized crimes committed at sea — including illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, smuggling of migrants and illicit trafficking in firearms — as well as the “deplorable” loss of life and adverse impact on international trade stemming from such activities.
Against that backdrop, it emphasized through the statement the importance of safeguarding the legitimate uses of the oceans, lives of people at sea and security of coastal communities, affirming that international law — reflected in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, among other global instruments — provides the legal framework for combating these illicit activities.
It called on Member States to implement the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and Chapter XI-2 of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and to work with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to promote safe and secure shipping while ensuring freedom of navigation. Member States, by other terms, should also consider ratifying, acceding to and implementing the 2000 United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols thereto, and designate authorities to take appropriate measures in accordance with these conventions.
At the meeting’s outset, the Council observed a moment of silence in tribute to the lives lost during the pandemic.
Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet to United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, said threats related to maritime security affect people in every country — coastal and landlocked alike. For more than 3 billion people — the vast majority in developing countries — the issue takes on a special urgency, as they count on the oceans and seas for their daily social and cultural life, and for their livelihoods. Yet, maritime security is being undermined at alarming levels, she said, from challenges around contested boundaries and navigation routes that do not conform to international law, to the depletion of natural resources — including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing — to armed attacks and crimes at sea, such as piracy, robbery and terrorist acts.
Noting that the first half of 2020 saw a nearly 20 per cent increase year on year in reported acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide, she said this happened despite an overall decrease in the volume of maritime traffic, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Asia, such incidents nearly doubled. Noting that West Africa, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, and the South China Sea were most affected by piracy and armed robbery against ships, she said the unprecedented levels of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly concerning, while maritime insecurity is compounding the terrorist threat emerging from the Sahel.
“These growing and interlinked threats call out for a truly global and integrated response,” she emphasized. She advocated a response that addresses these challenges in the immediate term — and tackles their root causes, including poverty, a lack of alternative livelihoods, insecurity and weak governance structures. The response should bring together everyone with a stake in maritime spaces — from Governments and regional groups, to shipping companies, the fishing and extraction industries, those charged with keeping maritime spaces secure, and as always, the people living in coastal communities who count on the ocean for their livelihoods and well-being.
She pointed to the international legal regime for maritime security, underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, as “the good news”, stressing that the Convention and related instruments strike a “careful balance” between States’ sovereign rights, jurisdiction and freedoms, and their duties and obligations. However, this framework is only as strong as countries’ commitment to full and effective implementation. “We need to translate commitment into action,” she stressed. All States must live up to their obligations and resolve any differences in relation to maritime security, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
She expressed support for regional initiatives to fight piracy off Somalia’s coast, end armed robbery against ships in Asia and tackle insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, also highlighting the United Nations work with the African Union and Arab States to strengthen security in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. “Partners are coming together like never before to strengthen maritime security,” she said. “By lending your voice and support to these initiatives, this Council can draw increased attention and action to these efforts.”
Finally, the global response must include working with people most affected by maritime security challenges, she said. Across the United Nations system, the Organization is working with impoverished coastal communities to develop new opportunities for decent and sustainable work, through technical assistance and capacity-building. Throughout such efforts, the global response must recognize the link between security and sustainability. “Without security, the sustainable and responsible development of the oceans and its resources is impossible,” she assured. “We cannot afford to squander the future of this wondrous natural gift, nor the futures of the billions of people who rely on it.”
Ghada Fathi Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), welcomed the Council presidency’s high-level attention to the issue of maritime security and the strong support for her office in the presidential statement. Piracy and organized crimes are increasingly affecting maritime activities, with terrorism, drug and human trafficking, illegal fishing and other crimes all posing a challenge to peace and security. In 2020, for instance, a record volume of cocaine was seized. UNODC has been providing support to address these transnational challenges since 2009. Its programme has expanded from addressing the issue of Somali piracy to a broader operation with a budget of $230 million in support of capacity-building in 26 Member States. Yet, as challenges continue to grow, the international response must grow, as well, she said, welcoming today’s debate as an opportunity to build momentum.
Outlining areas of action, she called for more effective implementation of legal instruments, including Security Council resolutions, such as resolution 2551 (2020), as well as international treaties, such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Sharing intelligence among nations is also key, she said, also stressing the importance of building partnerships. UNODC is forging cooperation in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean, South‑East Asia and other areas to build resilience. It also works closely with partners, including IMO, International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and security companies. Calling on Member States to use technology to address problems, she underscored the need to tackle root causes of maritime insecurity, pointing out that pirates and organized crime groups exploit poverty. There is no security without development, she said, calling for a holistic approach, greater investment and political commitment.
Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’apala, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, speaking on behalf of President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo in his capacity as Chairperson of the African Union, said optimal maritime security requires tackling root causes: lack of adapted equipment and training; using trash vessels at sea; and dumping materials that lead to pollution. International cooperation, led by regional efforts, remains the most appropriate means to address this. As such, African Union member States adopted the African Charter on Maritime Security, known as the Lome Charter, as no one country can tackle these problems alone. More than two thirds of the world is covered by water and currently, improvements are needed to bring about a fundamental change, he said, citing Africa’s involvement in maritime trade and industry. However, progress depends on resolving security issues, including those affecting the Guinea Gulf and the Somali basin, which continue to threaten international peace and stability. Such threats include transnational crimes, drugs, human and weapons trafficking, piracy, theft of oil, illegal migration and natural hazards. Some States have deployed units to support the anti-piracy efforts of coastal nations, he said, highlighting the Lome Charter’s goal: to address crime and prevent and eradicate illegal activities by strengthening regional cooperation and collaboration, including with the United Nations. Appropriate technology and enhanced communication between the private sector and Governments are part of efforts to develop an African security strategy in the coming years, he said, emphasizing that only international cooperation can help to strengthen maritime security on his continent.
In the ensuing debate, Heads of State and Government from around the world underscored the vital importance of maintaining global maritime security and the rules-based order underpinning it, with many drawing attention to specific hotspot areas and expressing support for a robust cooperation framework.
Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, described the oceans as “our shared global commons” and a lifeline of international trade. However, this common maritime heritage faces multiple threats. Maritime routes are being misused for piracy and terrorism, and maritime disputes are erupting between countries, with climate change and natural hazards posing additional challenges. “We need a framework for mutual understanding and cooperation in order to conserve and utilize our shared maritime heritage,” he emphasized. He called for removing barriers to legitimate maritime trade, stressing that any hindrance can threaten the global economy. Based on an open and inclusive ethos, India has developed a vision of “Security and Growth for All in the Region”, through which it aims to create an inclusive framework for maritime security in its region. Maritime disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law, he said, and with this understanding, India resolved its maritime boundary with Bangladesh. Noting that threats from natural hazards and non-State actors should be tackled jointly, he said India has been a first responder during cyclones, tsunamis and pollution-related maritime disasters. He also advocated for conservation of the maritime environment and marine resources, greater mutual cooperation in ocean science research and responsible maritime connectivity, stressing that global norms and standards should be developed for infrastructure projects aimed at boosting maritime trade.
Vladimir V. Putin, President of the Russian Federation, said his country promotes strict adherence to key norms and principles, such as respect for sovereignty, non-intervention in internal affairs and peaceful dispute settlement through dialogue. United Nations principles must be observed in the peaceful and responsible use of maritime spaces, their natural resources, protection of the marine environment and in sustainable activity in the global ocean. As a leading maritime Power, the Russian Federation is doing much to strengthen international rule of law in maritime security, he said, noting that it is engaged in the full range of these matters in the United Nations and in multiple regional formats, including in the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum and in East Asia summits. It aims to build productive cooperation with the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Commission, seeking to help ensure security in the Persian Gulf, as well as in the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean, where there has been an been a growing number of robberies and hostage‑taking events. Such conditions are aggravated by the fact some countries cannot fight transnational crime syndicates, pirates and terrorists on their own, which is why the Russian Federation is discussing uniting under the United Nations aegis the special services and relevant armed contingents of all interested States. The Russian Federation is prepared to share its experiences in anti-terrorism operations, crime prevention, and identification and neutralization of criminal gangs operating in maritime areas. In this context, it would be useful to share experiences in countering piracy and armed robberies on a regular basis. He proposed the establishment of a special structure within the United Nations to directly address fighting maritime crime in various regions, based on support by Member States, which would engage experts, civil society, academia and the private sector. He expressed hope that partners will constructively consider this proposal, underscoring the Russian Federation’s commitment to the joint goal to fighting maritime crime in all its forms and manifestations, and continued support for equal cooperation on the topic.
Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya, noted that, straddling Africa and the Indian Ocean rim, his country’s wealth and security rely on the building of sound trade and security linkages between these two regions. However, western reaches of the rim, particularly the Eastern Africa coast and the Horn of Africa are under immense threat from international terrorism. Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) have committed active and ambitious affiliates in the region. Conflict in Yemen has enabled Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to establish cooperation with Al‑Shabaab in Somalia. Piracy and other sea-based crimes, including attacks on vessels and illicit trafficking of persons, firearms and narcotics, remain a concern in the Gulf of Guinea, Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Meanwhile, competition for influence in the Red Sea region, particularly by extraregional Powers, has intensified over the years. He underscored several action points, including ensuring sustainable exploitation of resources and facilitating peaceful resolution of conflicts. The global multilateral system needs to better coordinate with regional and subregional mechanisms, he said, noting that threats to the maritime security are mainly “land-based situations”. He called on parties to build robust coast guard capacities and stressed the threat of climate change to the existence of some small island States. He also urged for humane treatment of the many thousands of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and Red Seas and encouraged more thinking and innovation in developing and launching fair-trade regimes in areas such as the Indian Ocean rim.
Phạm Minh Chính, Prime Minister of Viet Nam, noted that nations have created important cooperation mechanisms, both bilateral and multilateral, at regional and global levels, drawing a particular attention to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention as “the constitution of oceans and seas” governing all activities in these spaces and the basis for international cooperation to address common challenges. It is imperative that States and international organizations develop a comprehensive, extensive and profound awareness of the importance of oceans and seas, and the threats to maritime security. Such awareness would form the basis for greater responsibility and political will. Proposing the development of a network of arrangements and initiatives for regional maritime security with the United Nations working as the coordinator, he expressed his country’s determination to work with ASEAN and China to seriously, fully and effectively implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, and negotiate an effective and substantive code of conduct consistent with international law. The Security Council must continue to make important and concrete contributions to enhancing maritime security.
Hassoumi Massoudou, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Niger, said that Africa is paying a heavy price because of criminal acts perpetrated on the high seas. In the 2000s, the Somali coasts and the Gulf of Aden were the epicentre of piracy, but maritime insecurity has grown to reach the Gulf of Guinea, where piracy, especially in the oil industry, hostage-taking for ransom, and drug and human trafficking, have become commonplace. The impact of any deterioration in the security on the coastline of its neighbours affects Niger, a landlocked country, whose capital is 1,000 kilometres away from the nearest port of entry, as maritime insecurity disrupts international trade. It is vital to consolidate global cooperation with the United Nations leading the charge, he said, drawing attention to the existing regional and subregional mechanisms such as the Yaoundé Architecture established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and the Gulf of Guinea Commission, as well as 2050 Africa’s Integrated Maritime Strategy. It is also important to have a common definition of maritime security encompassing a wide range of crimes. This would enable the harmonization of penal codes and help bring the perpetrators to justice, he said, also calling on the relevant partners to invest more in development projects to create opportunities for young people in the most affected countries or regions.
Anthony Blinkin, Secretary of State of the United States, said the international community has long benefitted from the rules-based maritime order, where the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea sets out the legal framework for sea activities. Yet, despite all the ways freedom of the seas and the unimpeded flow of maritime commerce have delivered for nations — and the indispensable role that the maritime order has played in security cooperation — “the order is under serious threat”. He called on all nations to recommit to defending the maritime rules that “we forged together” and pledged to uphold. These principles are under threat in the South China Sea, where there are dangerous encounters between vessels and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims. The United States and others, including South China Sea claimants, have protested such behaviour. Five years ago, an arbitral tribunal constituted under the Convention delivered a unanimous and legally binding decision firmly rejecting such unlawful expansion as inconsistent with international law. The United States has consistently called for all to conform their claims to the Convention, in keeping with the peaceful resolution of disputes and sovereign equality of Member States, as efforts to resolve disputes through force flouts these principles. It is the business — and indeed the responsibility — of every Member State to defend the rules that all agreed to follow. Conflict in any ocean carries serious global consequences for security and global commerce. States are also unlawfully advancing interests in the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, he said, citing the 29 July unjustifiable attack on the Mercer Street by an unmanned aerial vehicle, for which he said Iran was responsible — part of a pattern of provocative behaviour. In the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, there are continued aggressive actions against Ukraine and harassment of vessels, disrupting commerce and energy access. Reaffirming support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, he said, “Crimea is Ukraine” and stressed that, when nations purport to redraw borders, they undermine the sovereign equality of Member States, a guiding United Nations principle. He drew attention to successful collective efforts through the Yaoundé architecture, the Nigeria-led Deep Blue Project and India’s Maritime Fusion Centre, stressing that the same coordination must be reflected in responses to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to environmental disasters.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs of France, said oceans are subject to predation, crime and threats to the ecosystems on which millions of people depend. Calling maritime security “a major test for multilateralism”, he appealed for greater international mobilization, stressing that the security of maritime spaces involves respect for international law. For its part, France is committed to freedom of navigation and respect for international obligations, he said, emphasizing that, without respect for shared values, the seas will become a “permanent theatre for conflict”. France is committed to reducing tensions in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, and he condemned the 29 July deadly attack on the Mercer Street vessel. Focus also must be maintained on tensions in the South China Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, he said, underscoring the need to “tackle these threats together”. The international community must use all necessary measures to counter piracy, organized crime and trafficking in drugs and counterfeit products. In addition, France acceded to the Indian Ocean Rim Organization and supports the development of a European Union strategy for the Indo-Pacific region. He highlighted the Yaoundé architecture as an example of excellent cooperation, also pointing to the G7++ Friends of the Gulf of Guinea in this context. He went on to cite efforts within the Irini and Atalanta Operations and welcomed UNODC’s work with the European Union to develop global programmes on maritime crime and container control. “We need to protect oceans and seas from being plundered,” he stressed.
Eva-Maria Liimets, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, welcomed the adoption of the presidential statement, stressing the importance of maritime security and transport, as evident in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, threats to maritime security like piracy and terrorism, as well as indirect threats from illegal fishing and climate change, become transnational and interconnected, she said, expressing deep concern about continuing incidents in the Persian Gulf. Pointing to cyberattacks targeting ports or shipping that have occurred, she emphasized the need to enhance cybersecurity and to increase resilience. Meanwhile, climate change has a negative impact on marine and coastal environment and the well-being of populations. Noting that maritime security is multifaceted, she called for further coordination and cooperation across all relevant States and sectors to prevent and eliminate sea-based crime. She further highlighted the contribution of the European Union to maritime security and stressed the crucial role of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas. She also urged for greater inter-State and inter-agency cooperation to prevent and mitigate threats to maritime security.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said securing maritime safety is a cornerstone of her country’s foreign policy, warning that disruption to world trade — 80 per cent of which is carried out by ships — could pose a potential threat to the global economy and security. There is said to be seven seas and five oceans, but there is only one ocean, she emphasized. Condemning a recent attack on an oil tanker by pirates off the coast of Oman, she noted that these acts are becoming more frequent and brutal in the Gulf of Guinea. Despite Security Council resolution 2018 (2011), piracy remains a major threat in that region. Piracy is also an obstacle to development. In this regard, Norway supports a study to be released by UNODC. Stressing the importance of regional players working together, she said such cooperation is not effective if not all Member States are committed.
Marcelo Ebrard Casaubon, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mexico, said that for a country like his, whose coastline spans over 11,000 kilometres, today’s debate is of the greatest relevance. Stressing the need for legal and institutional synergies to strengthen maritime security, he drew attention to General Assembly resolution 75/239 on oceans and the law of the sea, which addresses all relevant issues in detail and includes a specific section on maritime safety and security. IMO is the main authority on the matter, he added. Noting that Mexico played a central role in the negotiation of the Law of the Sea Convention, he argued that the approach to maritime security should not centre on “militarization” of the oceans. Rather, it is necessary to reinforce both national measures and international cooperation. For its part, Mexico consolidated its maritime and port authorities into a single unit and established a secure fund to tackle illegal acts in court. The Seas are a global space that belongs to all, where unilateral measures must be excluded, and international cooperation should prevail, he stressed.
Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom, noting that his country is preparing a new National Strategy for Maritime Security, said that the recent incident involving a Liberian-flagged ship off Oman was a clear violation of international law by Iran. The international community must stand ready to attribute, challenge, deter and penalize hostile State activity and unacceptable behaviour at sea. The rights and freedoms enshrined in the Convention on the Law of the Sea must be ensured in every part of the world and not simply junked on a whim. Highlighting the United Kingdom’s strategic tilt towards the Indo-Pacific region, he said that “whatever happens there matters to the world”. His country is also leading global efforts to safeguard the marine environment and championing the protection of at least 30 per cent of the global ocean by 2030.
Camillo Gonsalves, Minister for Finance of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, stressed that as a small island developing State, his country’s existence and prosperity is linked to oceanic resources and maritime security. Yet, a range of risks remain, including piracy and armed robbery; illegal trade of arms, ammunition, narcotics and other contraband; irregular migration and human trafficking; illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; and deliberate damage to marine ecosystems. Adding that climate change further accentuates these challenges, he emphasized that these challenges can only be solved through comprehensive multilateral approaches. Pointing to recent escalations in the Gulf of Oman, he called for States to work under the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to ensure freedom of navigation and safe passage, while commending the recently signed memorandum of understanding between the African Union and the Gulf of Guinea Commission. As a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has been working to enhance maritime security through measures such as improving surveillance and intelligence-gathering capacities, modernizing law enforcement and criminal justice sectors, and upgrading regulations for travel and trade.
Eamon Ryan, Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport of Ireland, noting his country’s maritime action plan “Harnessing our Ocean Wealth”, welcomed the presidential statement. Global cooperation is essential amid the pandemic which has impacted maritime security, he said, adding that it is also imperative to protect seas and oceans from climate change and other environmental threats. The centrality of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and a comprehensive approach to maritime security are important, and his country contributes to these aims through the European Union. Highlighting the Union’s cooperation with the United Nations that supports and complements the Organization’s peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, he particularly pointed to the bloc’s Operation Atalanta, which has helped to counter piracy and armed robbery at sea and illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia, while also addressing the illicit charcoal trade and weapons trafficking.
The representative of Tunisia, stressing that the seas are facing multiple threats from terrorism, piracy, human trafficking, arms smuggling, illegal trade in petroleum products, degradation of biodiversity and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, underscored the importance of international cooperation in maintaining maritime security. It is a common responsibility including for non‑coastal States. Highlighting the importance of the Convention and relevant Security Council resolutions, he called for enhancing leadership by the United Nations, IMO, UNODC and INTERPOL to reactivate all such legal frameworks to ensure the peaceful and equal cooperation of all States. He also called for more bilateral exchanges of information and cooperation in building training capacity. Maintaining security should ensure the adoption of measures to protect merchant commercial and tourist vessels, preserve and monitor borders and deal with all causes for maritime disputes, including natural hazards, immigration and the lack of good governance and development, especially with local coastal communities that are under duress from these forces. Countries must adopt a participatory approach to maritime security, notably as non-government entities play an important role in port management. For its part, Tunisia has built its institutions and fostered both regional and bilateral cooperation, and is keen to promote information exchange, joint border monitoring and cooperation with UNODC.
The representative of China stressed the significance of maintaining maritime security amid the pandemic, helping to end regional conflicts and addressing rampant crimes such as piracy, armed robbery and human trafficking. Noting that China has been advocating for “common maritime security”, he added that some countries are pursuing exclusive regional strategies in the Asia-Pacific region. He emphasized that maritime security cooperation should uphold the principle of “community with shared future”. He went on to say that maritime security cooperation should follow international law and serve the economic and social development of coastal countries. In this regard, he strongly urged Japan to revoke the “wrong decision” to release Fukushima’s wastewater into the ocean. He further emphasized that maritime security cooperation should focus on combating piracy, especially in West Africa and the waters off Somalia. China will continue to cooperate with South-East Asian countries, African Union and ECOWAS, to respond to piracy together. Pointing out that “the Security Council is not the right place to discuss the issue of the South China Sea”, he stressed that, with the joint efforts of China and the ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea remains stable. All countries enjoy freedom of navigation in accordance with international law. Noting that China and ASEAN countries are committed to fully implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea, he argued that the United States has been arbitrarily sending military vessels and aircrafts to the region as a provocation, and its “hype in the Security Council is entirely politically motivated”.