1. The present report is submitted pursuant to paragraph 33 of Security Council resolution 2316 (2016), in which the Council requested an annual report on the situation with respect to piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.
2. The report covers major developments since my previous report of 7 October 2016 (S/2016/843) through 30 September 2017. The report is based on information provided by the United Nations system, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Member States and regional organizations, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Main developments, trends and considerations regarding piracy off the coast of Somalia
A. Major developments and trends during the reporting period
3. During the reporting period, efforts to minimize acts of Somali piracy continued thanks to the efforts of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia to foster governance and the rule of law within Somalia, the physical presence of international naval forces and the observance of the IMO Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-based Piracy by the shipping industry. However, a slight increase in piracy activities between March and June 2017 pointed to the root causes as not being fully addressed. In October 2016, there had been an attempt to attack the chemical tanker Korea, travelling 300 nautical miles east off the Somali coast, outside the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, but the attempt failed after an exchange of gunfire with the ship’s security forces led to the suspected pirates fleeing the scene. From May 2012 until March 2017, no merchant vessel had been successfully attacked by Somali pirates.
4. During March and April 2017, six successful pirate attacks occurred involving the hijacking for ransom of cargo ships and dhows, including the Aris 13, the Casayr II-No. 30, the Al Kausar and the Salama. In April 2017, Chinese and Indian naval forces thwarted an attack on the OS-35 and, later the same month, Chinese naval forces and the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) prevented an attack on the Al Heera. Local authorities in Puntland and Galmudug contributed to hostage negotiations and the release of the crew of the Aris 13 in March, and of the crew of the Al Kausar in April, as well as assisted with identifying the apprehended suspects. Twenty-two unsuccessful attacks or suspicious maritime activities were recorded from March to 30 September 2017. Of the 29 attempted or successful attacks during the reporting period, only 2 were against fishing vessels.
5. The hijackings in 2017 began four months after NATO terminated its counter-piracy operations (Ocean Shield) off the coast of Somalia. According to the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction risk assessment, which is a major source of maritime threat assessments, the spike in recent incidents may imply that piracy networks have retained the capability and intent to commit acts of piracy, but were dissuaded from carrying them out by the international naval presence, which includes the European Union, the Combined Maritime Forces and the independent naval forces of China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and Turkey, among others, in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin. The European Union is reviewing the continuation of its naval presence (Operation Atalanta) after 2018. Withdrawing that presence may present increased opportunities for piracy.
B. Addressing root causes
6. The recent attacks demonstrate that the underlying conditions fuelling piracy have not changed, and that piracy networks are still active. Pirate groups remain opportunistic, given the relative ease with which operatives may source weapons and skiffs, making it an option with a low threshold for entry. Several factors add to the risk of a resurgence in piracy activities, including: coastal communities’ perceptions of weak coastal and marine resources protection by federal, international and local authorities, especially with regard to illegal fishing by foreign vessels; the ease of recruitment of potential pirates and the financing of attacks as a result of strong criminal networks operating onshore and internationally; the weakness of the institutional capacities and legal frameworks that identify, capture, prosecute and convict suspected pirates and their accomplices; and the lack of alternative income-generation opportunities for affected coastal communities. The perception of a more peaceful environment off the coast of Somalia, the recent favourable weather conditions in the pre-monsoon period and the ongoing humanitarian crisis within Somalia may also have prompted the recent attacks.
7. In addition, a number of external factors contribute to the persistent risk. Commercial ships are not adhering to the Best Management Practices, and are deviating from the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, taking increased risks and reducing their usage of private security personnel. In addition, there is weak information-sharing on the part of the international community, regional instability, and the fact that pirates are possibly viewing the current environment as permissive owing to the recent reduction in the international naval presence. As long as those external and internal conditions remain, so will the risk of further attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.