24 September 2011 – Amid rising concerns about pirates taking control of the waters off West Africa, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, met Nassirou Bakou Arifari, Minister for Foreign Affairs from Benin , on the margins of the annual session of the General Assembly in New York.
“These are worrying developments that we should take seriously” Mr. Fedotov told Mr. Arifari. Benin, in particular, is seeing more piracy off its coastline, which may have implications for its national development and stability.
With massive reserves of oil, cocoa and metals needed to supply hungry world markets, the Gulf of Guinea – a stretch of West Africa’s coast spanning more than a dozen countries – is witnessing early signs that pirates may be keen to pounce on new and lucrative opportunities. Piracy, drug smuggling and political uncertainty have made the Gulf of Guinea a challenging environment for investors seeking to benefit from natural resources.
UNODC, the UN mission in West Africa (UNOWA) and the International Maritime Organization are therefore setting up a mission to assess Benin’s capacity to combat piracy. They will lend international support in the framework of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional action plan to combat drug trafficking and organized crime in West Africa, as well as the UNODC Regional Programme 2010-2014.
Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is not on the scale of that off East Africa, but more attacks in a region ill-equipped to counter the threat could disrupt shipping and investment. Indeed, the Security Council has already expressed concern over the increase in piracy, maritime armed robbery and reports of hostage-taking in the Gulf of Guinea and its damaging impact on security, trade and economic activities in the sub-region.
In recent years, West Africa has emerged as a hub for cocaine trafficking between Latin America and Europe and the issue is firmly on the agenda of the international community. The Office will assist Benin to formulate a national integrated programme against illicit drugs and organized crime.
“My Office stands ready to assist Benin and the sub-region in the framework of the UNODC Regional Programme in which Benin is actively participating,” said the Executive Director.
I hope the fight against piracy in East African waters taught some lessons to the international community — and that those lessons are put to good use in West Africa ASAP.