Maritime crime poses a serious threat to the safety of seafarers, international trade and regional stability. As over 90%* of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling.
Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances. These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.
Due to the unique nature of the high seas – falling outside the jurisdiction of any single State, but within the collective responsibility of all – a coordinated and comprehensive approach must be taken to tackle crimes both occurring at sea and being carried out through use of the maritime domain. This includes interrupting criminal activities at sea, strengthening domestic maritime law-enforcement capacity, and addressing the root causes of maritime crime on land.
The UNODC Maritime Crime Programme (MCP) assists states to strengthen their capacity to combat maritime crime. The MCP was formed in 2009 as the UNODC “Counter Piracy Programme” (CPP), which was established in response to Security Council resolutions calling for a concerted international response to the scourge of piracy off the Horn of Africa. The CPP, as it then was, was at the forefront of regional efforts to provide a criminal justice response to piracy in the Indian Ocean. The CPP played a central role in the establishment of a regional ‘piracy prosecution model’. This involved coordination between international naval fleets that apprehended alleged pirates on the high seas and States in the Indian Ocean region, which received them for prosecution. This model continues to run successfully today.
In the counter-piracy realm, the MCP has provided coordination and leadership at the strategic and regional levels, sustained capacity-building assistance to prosecuting States, and direct assistance to piracy trials. The first States identified for assistance under this model were Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tanzania. The assistance provided to these States has included training Judges, prosecutors, prison staff, police and coast guard officers; building court-houses and prison facilities; the provision of equipment and material for law enforcement agencies; and criminal justice legislative reform.
A part of this criminal justice response to piracy, the MCP established its Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme, which transfers consenting sentenced detainees from prosecuting States back to their home country. This enables detainees to serve their sentences closer to their families and in their own cultural environs, in humane, secure, UNODC-monitored detention facilities. This initiative has gone hand-in-hand with constructing and improving prison facilities in South Central Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland, providing training and mentoring to custodial staff and implementing education, vocational training and rehabilitation programmes for detainees.
The MCP also recognises that a truly sustainable solution to combating piracy requires addressing its root causes, andbuilding Somali maritime law enforcement institutions from the ground up. The MCP has implemented a number of successful maritime and criminal justice capacity-building initiatives South Central Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. This important work is laying the foundations for a long-term vision would see piracy and other organized crime addressed domestically by Somali authorities.
Helping victims of maritime crime has also been at the forefront of the MCP’s work. The MCP Hostage Support Programme has led international efforts to support piracy hostages and their families. This programme has provided medical support to hostages while still in captivity, provided an invaluable line of information and communication to their families and Embassies, and successfully helped to secure their safe release and transfer.
Today, the MCP’s activities include ongoing counter-piracy and maritime capacity-building in the Horn of Africa and Indian Ocean regions. New programming has also commenced in 2014 to address the emerging threat of piracy and other maritime crimes in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.
The MCP is continuing to expand its activities and is engaging with stakeholders in the Indian Ocean region to discuss novel approaches to combating a wide range of maritime crimes, including the trafficking of illicit substances by sea.
The UNODC Maritime Crime Programme prides itself on its ability to deliver results effectively, efficiently and sustainably. An overarching respect for human rights and the rule of law informs all of its activities.
* Source: International Maritime Organization.
Read about our activities in the latest UNODC Maritime Crime Programme Bulletin here.