12 June 2014, Geneva, Switzerland - The UNOG Library Talk of last week in Geneva was dedicated to the launching of the new UNOSAT study on Piracy. This report is the result of five years of research in the area of geospatial information applied to piracy. The research, conducted by UNOSAT experts is the an attempt to look at piracy globally from a geospatial angle, combining mapping and satellite observations to reveal trends and patterns that can only be observed when “looking from above”.
The launching took the form of a panel discussion with the participation of the Permanent Representatives to the UN from Somalia and Senegal, the Manager of UNOSAT and the main piracy Researcher from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law. The Panel was moderated by UNITAR’s Director of Research.
Since 2007 UNOSAT has been tracking piracy off the coasts of Somalia using optical very high resolution imagery and radar data from commercial and scientific satellites. At the outset analysts were responding to requests by humanitarian agencies engaged in Somalia and using chartered vessels to transport vital aid supplies. In time the scope of the investigation widened, leading to regular updates by 2009, which became popular with a number of non-UN users including shipping lines, investigators and naval forces. By 2011, UNOSAT had accumulated a large amount of data and information that led to the study presented on 12 June at the Library of the United Nations.
As Einar Bjorgo explained, looking at piracy on a global scale using a geographic reference system reveals aspects of the phenomenon that are less apparent in conventional research on the subject. The UNOSAT study points at a few trends and highlights interesting facts using maps and easy graphics to convey the information. The Ambassador of Somalia, Yusuf Mohammed Ismail, welcomed the research as timely and enlightening and underlined the link between piracy and the complex situation resulting from poverty, insecurity and illegal fishing in Somali waters. On the other side of the continent, West African countries are faced with a rapid increase of piracy activities punctuated by increasingly violent episodes, as underlined by the Ambassador of Senegal, Fode’ Seck. Alice Priddy of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law explained how the terminology employed in the media affects the perception of the phenomenon and the importance of the legal definitions and legal frameworks relating to piracy and the high seas in general.
UNOSAT is seeking donor support to sustain its research on piracy in support of humanitarian agencies operating in Africa. The study presented to the diplomatic community on 12 June was funded by Sweden and was the occasion for the management of UNOSAT to attract attention to the funding requirements of the Programme to be able to continue its work in this area.
Photo courtesy of UNOG Library - From left: Alice Priddy, Ambassador Yusuf Mohammed Ismail, Francesco Pisano, Ambassador Fode' Seck, Einar Bjorgo.