Chaired by the Indian PM, UNSC’s high level open debate about the maritime domain was attended by several important country representatives and members of the council over extensive discussion
A high-level op en debat e on ‘Enhancing Maritime Security – A Case for International Cooperation’ was held virtually on August 9, 2021, chaired by India’s Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi.
The open debate focussed on ways to effectively counter maritime crime and insecurity and strengthened coordination in the maritime domain. It saw representatives from countries like the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Niger, Norway, Kenya, Congo, China, India, Russia, Tunisia, Mexico, France, Estonia, and Ireland.
As per the Indian government’s press release, Modi was the first Indian Prime Minister to preside over a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) open debate. For the month of August, India holds the presidency of the UNSC.
Based on our civilisational ethos that sees the seas as an enabler of shared peace and prosperity, PM Modi had put forward the vision of SAGAR (Security and Growth for all in the Region) in 2015. This vision focuses on cooperative measures for sustainable use of the oceans, and provides a framework for a safe, secure, and stable maritime domain in the region. In 2019, at the East Asia Summit, this initiative was further elaborated through the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) with a focus on seven pillars of maritime security including maritime ecology; maritime resources; capacity building and resource sharing; disaster risk reduction and management; science, technology and academic cooperation; and trade connectivity and maritime transport, highlighted the official press statement by the Government of India (GoI).
Throughout the meeting, the ocean was highlighted as a common heritage. “Our sea routes are the lifeline of international trade. And, the biggest thing is that these seas are very important for the future of our planet. But today our shared maritime heritage is facing many challenges. Sea routes are being misused for piracy and terrorism. There are maritime disputes between many countries and climate change and natural disasters are also subjects related to maritime domain,” said Modi. In this wider context, the need to create a framework of mutual understanding and cooperation for the protection and use of shared maritime heritage was underlined. The problem of transnational organised crimes committed at sea — including illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs, smuggling of migrants and illicit trafficking in firearms — as well as the “deplorable” loss of life and adverse impact on international trade stemming from such activities was extensively discussed.
The United Nations also stated maritime security being undermined at an alarming pace by challenges around contested boundaries, the depletion of natural resources and armed attacks — from piracy to terrorism.
“On the basis of these five principles, a global roadmap for maritime security cooperation can be formed.”
— Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The council also informed that the first half of 2020 saw a nearly 20 per cent increase year on year in reported acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships worldwide despite an overall decrease in the volume of maritime traffic, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Asia, such incidents nearly doubled. West Africa, the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, and the South China Sea were most affected by piracy and armed robbery against ships. The unprecedented levels of insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea are particularly concerning, while maritime insecurity is compounding the terrorist threat emerging from the Sahel Region.
During the meeting, while highlighting the importance of seas and maritime trade, PM Modi presented five basic principles to navigate the rising maritime concerns globally.
First Principle: Remove barriers from legitimate maritime trade. The prosperity of all of us is dependent on the active flow of maritime trade. The bottlenecks in this can be a challenge for the entire global economy.
Second Principle: The settlement of maritime disputes should be peaceful and on the basis of international law only. This is very important for mutual trust and confidence. It is only through this that we can ensure global peace and stability.
Third Principle: Face natural disasters and maritime threats created by non-state actors together.
Fourth Principle: Preserve the maritime environment and maritime resources. As we know, the oceans have a direct impact on the climate and therefore, we have to keep our maritime environment free from pollution like plastics and oil spills and take joint steps against over-fishing and marine poaching. We should also increase cooperation in ocean science.
Fifth Principle: Encourage responsible maritime connectivity as infrastructure creation is necessary to increase maritime trade. But, the fiscal sustainability and absorption capacity of the countries have to be kept in mind in the development of such infrastructure projects. For this we should make proper global norms and standards.
“On the basis of these five principles, a global roadmap for maritime security cooperation can be formed. The high and active participation of today’s open debate shows that this topic is important to all members of the Security Council,” stated Modi while concluding his address.
The various members of the state also mentioned about the regional, sub-regional and extra-regional concerns being faced by the world. The UN council expressed support for regional initiatives to fight piracy off Somalia’s coast, end armed robbery against ships in Asia and tackle insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, also highlighting the UN work with the African Union and Arab States to strengthen security in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
The Prime Minister of India also highlighted some important steps that the country has already taken and is working upon in line with the five-point structure laid out by him during the meeting. Some of these include:
In the ensuing debate, heads of state and government from around the world underscored the vital importance of maintaining global maritime security and the rules-based order underpinning it, with many drawing attention to specific hotspot areas and expressing support for a robust cooperation framework.