A senior United Nations official on Tuesday welcomed a substantial decrease in piracy incidents this year in the Gulf of Guinea, the world’s top hot spot for such attacks, but warned that pirate groups may be moving into more lucrative maritime crimes.

“The threat of piracy has cost the region lives, stability, and over $1.9 billion in financial losses every year,” Ghada Waly, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, told the U.N. Security Council.

“We must prevent the threat from simply taking a different form.”According to new UNODC research, pirates may be moving into criminal oil bunkering — providing fuel to ships — as well as theft and smuggling, Waly said.

Law enforcement authorities in the 19 countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea need support to combat “different forms of trafficking and illegal oil refining as well as illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing among others,” she said.

To close down options for criminals at sea, she said, the UNODC suggests that the region develop a framework to expand cooperation among Gulf of Guinea countries.

In a report to the Security Council circulated Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the number of cases of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea, including kidnapping for ransom, decreased from 123 in 2020 to 45 in 2021. This trend has continued in 2022, with the Interregional Coordination Center reporting 16 incidents of maritime crime between January and June, the U.N. chief said.

Data from the International Maritime Organization’s Integrated Shipping Information System backs that trend, showing 13 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the Gulf of Guinea during the same period.

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