By Mario Villar
United Nations, Aug 9 (EFE).- The United Nations Security Council member countries issued a call Monday for strengthened cooperation to counter piracy, terrorism and other threats on the high seas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken were among those who took part in a special Council meeting dedicated to that topic, the first of its kind to be held by the UN’s top body.
Meeting via video conference at the initiative of India, which holds the Council’s rotating presidency, the 15 member states discussed the deteriorating maritime security situation and pledged to do more in that regard, although no concrete measures were announced.
According to the UN, the security situation on the world’s oceans is worsening at “alarming levels” due to disputes over maritime boundaries and routes, armed attacks carried out by pirates and terrorists and an increase in illegal fishing.
“Despite an overall decrease in the volume of maritime traffic due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the first half of 2020 saw a nearly 20 percent increase in reported acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide over the previous year,” said Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, the Chef de Cabinet of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The UN said there has been a sharp increase in the number of maritime security incidents in Asia and pointed to several hotspots such as the Strait of Malacca, the Singapore Strait and the South China Sea.
The most problematic region for piracy, however, continues to be Africa and especially the Gulf of Guinea, where the current level of insecurity is unprecedented.
According to figures from the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau (IMB), those waters off the coast of West Africa accounted in 2020 for more than 95 percent of crew members kidnapped worldwide (130 out of a total of 135).
The Gulf of Guinea also accounted for nearly half (43 percent) of all reported piracy incidents in the first three months of this year, the IMB said.
The UN said combating impunity is one of the key actions needed to improve maritime security.
In that regard, not a single piracy suspect in the Gulf of Guinea had been convicted until Nigeria and Togo handed down their first sentences last month, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Ghady Waly, said Monday.
Maritime security issues, however, are not restricted to the actions of pirates, terrorists and criminal groups. They also include numerous disputes and clashes among countries.
The US and other Security Council members on Monday pointed to China’s role in various territorial disputes over islands, reefs, banks and shoals in the South China Sea that have intensified in recent years.
“In the South China Sea, we’ve seen dangerous encounters between vessels at sea and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims,” Blinken said Monday, warning of the dangers created when governments are not accountable for their actions.
He also denounced a recent drone attack on a tanker operated by an Israeli firm in the Gulf of Oman. The US, the United Kingdom and other countries immediately placed the blame on Iran.
Blinken said the US is confident that Iran carried out the attack, saying it was unjustified and “part of a pattern of attacks and other provocative behavior.” EFE