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Dryad Global Annual Report 22/23: Why is there under-reporting of incidents in the Sea of Mexico?


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In 2022, the Gulf of Mexico faced increased maritime security concerns, particularly in the Campeche Bay region. The rise in piracy incidents targeting static platforms, offshore supply vessels, and the local fishing industry was notable. These incidents are often characterised by violence but thus far are understood to not involve kidnapping. There is understood to be significant underreporting of the issue. 

Dryad Global spoke with Dr. Alfonso Motta-Allen. Dr. Alfonso Motta-Allen is a Mexican-Canadian political scientist and retired naval officer. He is currently a senior research and project manager at the Independent Consultant. Dr. Motta-Allen has over 40 years of experience in public and diplomatic positions in security and intelligence. He served as a commissioned officer in the Mexican Navy for 25 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander. He also served as a diplomat for the Mexican Government in various countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. 

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Why is there a disparity between the reporting of maritime security incidents in the Mexican media and what is actually reported through the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)? 

We need to examine the problem of under-reporting incidents in the Sea of Mexico through a more complex lens.  

This under-reporting is created by three intertwined factors: The first being the Mexican people’s lack of confidence in their justice system. We’re transitioning through a great crisis of impunity - from every 100 crimes that occur, only 6 are reported. For every 100 reported cases of crime, only 14 are resolved. That takes us to a terrible figure - less than 1% of that activity is being resolved. 

Long-standing disarticulation between coexisting port authorities: This disarticulation has made the processes of reporting crimes very difficult. Currently Mexico has been trying to resolve problems by putting most of these agencies under the command of the navy. 

How the facts are criminalised in Mexico: piracy is being treated by the navy as a regular armed robbery, assault or attack. This is because in 2005, the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled about an interpretation of the constitution stating that the navy must exercise the rule of law over the waters in which Mexico has sovereign rights. 

Even though the Supreme Court took in Article 58.2 of UNCLOS, the court gave more weight to an opportunity to combat the serious problems that Mexico has had for many years, and that is to do with drugs and human trafficking. 

The maritime issue reports that were to be sent to the IMO were rerouted: the navy had to initially report to the federal attorney general’s office and present to the individuals involved - and that is where the navy’s previously permitted actions ended. 

They couldn’t report further because they would be violating their due process. So technical investigations parallel to the criminal investigations of the justice authorities were never a customary role of the navy. 

As a former part of the Mexican navy yourself, you have direct experience and insight. You’ve mentioned ISPS implementation - what is the Mexican navy doing now to help provide protection in higher risk areas? 

In these areas, like the southern Gulf of Mexico, they are trying to increase their effectiveness by implementing permanent patrols and deploying important resources inland - maritime police and intelligence agents - with very good results. In the ports, they’re harmonising the obligations that all the port agencies need to follow. They’re implementing technological resources to raise their operational effectiveness, and increasing compliance with the ISPS.