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The Maastricht Diplomat

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The Shadow of the Seas

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

By Marie Peffenköver

Although piracy is an old and well-known concept with pirates even entering the entertainment sector since the famous success of “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Captain Hook”, the organized and violent use of coercive force with which piracy boats have started to attack the shores of the Asian-African region has increased significantly since the new millennium. The Forbes magazine even estimated that robberies caused by piracy are responsible for about a fifth of economic damages that have been reported by the Eastern-African regions.

Various measures by Western and African countries that are designed to ban the problem were not able to set a decisive and ultimate sign against the buccaneers. The most famous operation, the European Union’s “Mission Atlanta” (2012) has managed to decrease the number of robberies; yet, scholars have criticized this success of not being sustainable in the long-term.

The problem of international piracy has worsened since the millennium.

Thus, the United Nations First Committee on Disarmament and Security (DiSec) has met in an extraordinary session today to create a mutual response against the ongoing assaults along the African-Asian coastlines. Especially the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs), private firms and security companies that provide military assistance independent of any political affiliation, are at the core of the debate. While some states highlight the UN’s necessity and alternativeless to hire PMCs as international security programmes are low-equipped and have proven ineffective in previous crises, fierce opponents to the privatization and marketization of military capabilities, namely the Lebanese Republic and Nigeria, believe that “the state should maintain a monopoly in violence”.

However, an agreement on alternatives is heavily disputed. The idea of launching an international taskforce which is supposed to operate at the Eastern-African coast and, as the Delegate of the South-African Republic elaborated, shall specialize in traineeships and information-sharing with a regionally-integrated mandate, has met equal resistance.

Opponents such as Russia, China and the Sudan have uttered the concern on the effects on state sovereignty which will be undermined by establishing international action on the territory of the respective countries without a proper UN mandate. Additionally, the Djibouti Code of Conduct has given the Delegates much content for discussions.

The Djibouti Code of Conduct is an international agreement signed by Djibouti, Maldives, Somalia, , Egypt, Eritrea, , Mozambique, , Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates which aims at increasing regional maritime security by launching common operations or exchanging law official enforcements.  Central to this document is the UN’s confession to stick to international law while only intervening into local collisions in the face of an infringement of these common rules. Hence, without a mandate by the UN Security Council on communitarian intervention into the enclaves concerned, united action token would move within the grey zone of international law.


The Delegates of Nigeria (left) and Australia (right) discuss the Draft Resolution

Yet, as “the Djibouti Code of conduct only concentrates on the continent of Africa”, as pointed out by the Delegate of Italy, an operation along the Asian coasts might well be covered by the accord.

Shortly after the lunch break, however, negotiations have reached a breakthrough: The states present were able to agree on a Draft Resolution which assigns the UN the mandate to raise a “Regional Task Force for the Monitoring of Organized Crime in Piracy” (Article 7), launches the so-called “SHIP approach”, i.e. regional security by humanitarian aid, information sharing and the use of PMCs (Article 4) and allows the UN to act within the territory of the Gulf or Arden, the Cost of West Africa, the Coast of East Africa and the Strait of Malacca. The Djibouti Code of Conduct has explicitly been incorporated into the document as one of its irrefutable pillars (Article 6).

These fruitful discussions were yet disrupted by breaking news provided by a BBC reporter who revealed recent findings that the Royal Dutch Company Shell, an international giant in gas and oil distribution, has hired pirates along the Eastern-African coast deliberately to endanger its competitor’s oil riffs. Although some accusations to the Netherlands to investigate this occurrence have induced the Kingdom to assure that it would “take full responsibilities for recent actions if they are proven to be true” caused a short deviation from the actual gist of the debate, the Italian Delegate hinted to the tabled Draft Resolution as a document which “has been designed to tackle such issues together with the International Maritime Bureau (IMO) to fight such events. This is a resolution which should have been passed already”, he added.

The current Draft Resolution has great chances to pass with a huge majority as estimation suggests a two-thirds approval.

Although debates are still going on, the ball has started rolling. Now, the hope remains that, this time, it will bring the solution sought.

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