UN piracy unit urged to shift focus to maritime crime in Africa eastern coast

Thursday May 25 2023
un contact group meeting

Delegates follow proceedings in Nairobi, Kenya during Contact Group on Illicit Maritime Activities meeting on May 24,2023. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG


The UN Contact Group on Piracy along the Western Indian Ocean has been urged to focus its attention to the rising cases of migrant smuggling and illegal fishing as it ventures into new areas of focus following a decline in piracy activities in the region.

The Western Indian Ocean stretches along the coast along the mainland countries of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa and vast oceanic areas surrounding the Island States of Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius and French territories.

With 1,497 days gone since the last reported piracy incident along the region, security experts are warning that the vice has been suppressed but it isn’t gone forever, hence the need to remain vigilant while addressing the root cause of piracy which has been identified as poverty.

Poverty is also fuelling a demand for migration in the region with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) -Kenya Chief of Mission Sharon Dimanche noting that economic hardships, political instability and effects of climate change are fuelling migrant smuggling in the region.

“It has grown very significantly in the past two decades due to the ever-increasing demand for individuals who wish to migrate and leave their home country. The proceeds of these activities have been linked to wider criminal networks allowing them to gain access to a variety of illicit resources in both the marine and land criminal arena,” said Ms Dimanche.

Read: Somalia seeks to shield its fish from looters


Voted again

She spoke during the 25th plenary of the Contact Group on Illicit Maritime Activities (CGIMA) at the International Peace Support Training Centre in Karen.

During the plenary attended by representatives of countries along the Coast of the Indian Ocean, US, shipping bodies, UN agencies amongst them IMO and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Kenya was voted again as the chair of the Contact Group after it was proposed by India, seconded by the US and supported by associated international organizations.

The forum noted the need for increased surveillance against threats posed at sea including drugs, nuclear materials and arms trafficking, terrorism, human and waste trafficking as well as illegal fishing.

CGIMA was established in January 14, 2009, following a United Nations resolution to help states and organisations interested in fighting then’ s rising cases of piracy along the coast of Somalia and to ensure that pirates are brought to justice.

Before the year 2012, a vast section of Somalia’s coastline was under the command of pirates whose activities led to a sharp decline in Kenya’s shipping industry as attacks plummeted leading to a decline in trade and tourism as terrorists spread further inland to abduct tourists.

The abduction triggered Kenya’s decision to launch "Operation Linda Nchi" to protect its territory against increased terror incidents.

Read: 9 years later: Lessons from the Westgate terror attack

In March this year, two Somali men Mohamed Tahlil Mohamed and Abdi Yusuf Hassan were convicted by a federal court in New York for helping Somali pirates who kidnapped and held hostage a German journalist for two and a half years in January 2012 in Galkayo and demanding $20 million from him.

The journalist was freed in 2014 when his family raised $1 million to secure his release.

At the time, he worked as a freelancer for a German online publication and was researching a book about piracy.

Today, with suppressed piracy activities, CGIMA has shifted focus to other criminal activities happening in the region with proposals emerging for the need to strengthen cooperation and intelligence sharing as maritime threats evolve to include the threat of drone attacks and attacks on underground sea cables connecting the world to the internet.

Threat assessments, increased patrols in the High-Risk Areas in the Horn of Africa and Western Indian Ocean and presence of Combined Maritime Force Amisom and EU Naval Forces Somalia (EUNAVFOR) in strategic ports have been credited for the suppression of piracy.

During the plenary, Kenya was elected again as the chair of the group after it was proposed by India, seconded by the US and supported by international organisations.