Weekly Maritime Security Report 05 April 2017
East Africa and the Indian Ocean
Somalia: EUNAVFOR confirms Indian cargo vessel hijacked in HRA
The EU's Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) confirmed earlier reports that an Indian cargo dhow had been hijacked on 1 April, and that the vessel was now in Hobyo, Mudug region. The whereabouts of the 11 crew members who were on board the vessel remain unknown. According to Reuters, EUNAVFOR have attempted and failed to establish radio contact with the dhow, although investigations and operations were ongoing.
Somalia: EU anti-piracy mission using drone surveillance
The EU's anti-piracy mission in Somalia, Operation Atalanta, deployed drones for long-endurance aerial surveillance during coastal patrols. The drones are reportedly being deployed from the Spanish Navy vessel ESPS Galicia. The introduction of drone surveillance comes amid an uptick in Somali pirate activity. On 13 March, pirates carried out the first successful hijacking of a tanker ship in the High Risk Area (HRA) since May 2012.
Yemen: Six skiffs approach merchant vessel off Mokha
A merchant vessel reported it was approached by six skiffs, each with five persons on board at 0830 hrs local time, 15 nm southwest of Mokha in the southern Red Sea. The vessel reported sighting ladders and hooks on board the skiff, and the approach prompted crew to raise the alarm and armed guards took up position, causing the skiffs to move away.
PGI Analysis: The 1 April hijacking and the suspicious approach off Mokha come after two hijackings off Somalia's Puntland region in March, raising concerns among shippers that the incidents could signal the beginning of an uptick in piracy activity in the area. None of the incidents have so far resulted in ransom payments being made, although they underscore the continued vulnerability of vessels transiting the High Risk Area, particularly for those that fail to implement effective counter-piracy measures.
For analysis of the Aris 13 hijacking read PGI's insight here.
Yemen: Pirates release hijacked ship
Pirates released a hijacked dhow 70 nm from Qalansyia on Socotra Island, Yemen. The pirates took one of the three skiffs that was on board, food and diesel from the vessel. The whereabouts of the pirates and their seven abductees remains unknown. The pirates hijacked the dhow on 24 March off the coast of Eyl, Somalia.
PGI Analysis: The vessel was originally hijacked with the intent to use it as a "mothership" from which to launch attacks on larger commercial vessels, a common tactic during the height of Somali piracy from 2008 to 2012. The circumstances under which the dhow was released are unclear, although it is possible the pirates are looking to obtain ransom for the seven crew members who remain in their captivity. It is unclear who is behind the incident, and it remains unknown if they have links to the group which hijacked the Aris 13 on 13 March, although both vessels were taken off the semi-autonomous Puntland region, a former piracy hotspot during the Somali piracy epidemic of 2008-2012.
Yemen: US military warns of Houthi threat to Bab el-Mandeb
US Central Command chief General Joe Votel, the top American military official in the Middle East, said that Houthi rebels in Yemen were threatening freedom of movement in the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen. Votel said that rebels, with the support of Iran, had deployed radar systems, coastal defence missiles, mines and explosives boats from the Strait of Hormuz, a current flashpoint of tensions between the US and Iran. The US military said these systems threatened commerce and could lead to the emergence of a new contested maritime chokepoint. Votel's comments came as the US was reportedly considering increasing its military role in Yemen.
PGI Analysis: The warning comes as the Yemeni conflict escalates at sea off the country's west coast and around the Bab el-Mandeb, where the Saudi-led coalition is fighting against Houthi militants for control of strategic ports along the coastline. Houthi militants have sought to target coalition warships in the area in recent months and have also targeted commercial vessels in some cases, with an increase in the risk of collateral damage to commercial vessels due to the emergence of the use of sea mines in the area. The US Navy reported that Houthis had laid sea mines outside ports under their control, which came ahead of an incident in March when a Yemeni coast guard vessel struck a sea mine off the port of Mokha. The location of any other mines is unclear, although it is possible other contested Red Sea portscould be affected.
PGI increased Yemen's maritime threat rating in the April 2017 Quarterly Report, due for publication to subscribers on 4 April. To request information about our Quarterly Report service, please contact
Nigeria: Pirates kidnap six people from merchant vessel off Bonny Island
A group of four armed pirates boarded a Malta-flagged bulk carrier at 0730 hrs local time 31 nm south-southwest of Bonny Island. The six gunmen kidnapped six crew members and were able to flee. There were no reports on the nationality of the kidnapped crew. Kidnap-for-ransom attacks are regularly reported in the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria: Pirates open fire on merchant vessel off the coast of Bayelsa
An unspecified number of armed pirates chased and opened fire on a tanker at 1250 hrs local time off the coast of Bayelsa. Armed naval security aboard the ship reportedly returned fire, resulting in the pirates aborting the attack. There were no casualties reported from the incident.
PGI Analysis: Kidnap for ransom attacks in the Gulf of Guinea have increased since January 2016, and have persisted despite ongoing military operations in the Niger Delta, where attackers are based, as well as joint sea patrols to mitigate attacks. Militants and criminal groups are difficult to counter through armed force in the region, due to the geography of the creeks which provides a multitude of hideouts for such groups.
Select Maritime News
Colombia: Authorities seize 6.2 tonnes of cocaine at Barranquilla port
Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas reported that police confiscated 6.2 tonnes of cocaine at the Caribbean port of Barranquilla on 31 March. The narcotics, which were due to be sent to the Spanish port of Algeciras, were found in a shipment of scrap metal, and were reported to have belonged to several drug trafficking organisations including Los Urabeños. The incident marks the third largest cocaine seizure on land in the country's history. The country has witnessed an increasing number of drugs seizures in recent months, with areas of coca cultivation also growing substantially.
Colombia: Four robbers board tanker at Cartagena
Four robbers boarded an anchored tanker at Cartagena anchorage at 0845 hrs local time. The alarm was raised and crew mustered. Upon seeing the crew, the robbers escaped with stolen ship's properties.
Egypt: Court overturns decision blocking transfer of islands
An Egyptian court invalidated a decision from the country's highest administrative court that had blocked the transfer of two Red Sea islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. In 2016, Egypt agreed to transfer the strategic islands to Saudi Arabia, prompting street protests against the decision. There was no immediate indication of an increased threat of unrest as a result of the latest decision.
Egypt: Local security forces extinguish fire on recreational vessel in Suez
Dr Mustafa Shahata, Director of Security in Suez, noted reports of a fire on a recreational vessel in the Wadi Al-Dom in Ain Sokhna. Three vehicles from the local security forces moved quickly to extinguish the fire, preventing it from spreading to nearby vessels. There were no reports of further disruption in the area. The source of the fire was not immediately reported.
Indonesia: Security forces sink 81 fishing boats for poaching
Security forces blew up and sank 81 fishing boats caught poaching in Indonesian waters across 12 different locations. The operation increases the total number of boats confiscated and destroyed to 317 since October 2014. According to the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fishery, Indonesia suffered losses of more than USD 20 bn from illegal fishing in its waters in 2016.
Libya: At least 146 drown off coast of Sabratha
According to UN officials, at least 146 migrants and refugees drowned after their vessel sunk off the coast of Sabratha. A Spanish vessel with the UN Operation Sophia rescued only one person from the vessel. Trafficking groups often force migrants and refugees to board vessels which are unseaworthy.
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur seizes North Korean ship at Penang over suspected UN sanctions breach
Malaysian authorities seized a North Korean ship carrying coal and prevented it from entering Penang port due to suspected breaches of the UN sanctions against Pyongyang. The Kum Ya vessel, which was carrying 6,300 metric tonnes of coal, was allowed to dock, where an inspection team accompanied by armed escort boarded the ship. The ship is suspected of breaching the UN's resolution from December 2016 which places a cap on exports of North Korean coal.
Mexico: Holland America stops port calls at Acapulco over security concerns
The US cruise ship line Holland America reported it has halted port calls at the resort city of Acapulco, citing security concerns. Eight cruises which once stopped at Acapulco will instead go to other Mexican destinations in 2017 and 2018. Acapulco experiences high levels of violence due to turf battles between rival drug trafficking gangs.
Philippines: Manila looks to rename marine area after suspected Chinese interest
A Philippine presidential spokesperson said Manila is planning to change the name of the Benham Rise marine area to "Philippine Rise", amid suspicions of Chinese interest in the area which is known to be rich in gas and fish. The move comes after President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that a Chinese ship was conducting surveys of Benham Rise for several months in late 2016. If true, the surveying operations expand the Philippines's maritime dispute with China beyond the South China Sea. Benham Rise is not within China's "nine-dash line".
Philippines: Manila, Beijing to hold direct South China Sea talks
The Philippines and China will hold direct talks over the disputed South China Sea in Beijing in May, according to the Philippine foreign ministry. The two sides will reportedly discuss a bilateral consultation mechanism to deal with the jurisdictional dispute, amid growing tensions over China's military blockade and expected infrastructure construction on Scarborough Shoal, previously described by Manila as a "red line". China has ignored an international court ruling which rejected Beijing's "nine-dash line" as an assertion of its jurisdiction over the waters.
Uruguay: South Korean vessel believed to have sunk in south Atlantic
The MV Stellar Daisy, a Marshall Islands-registered cargo vessel employed by South Korean company Polaris Shipping, is believed to have sunk about 2,500 km from the Uruguayan coast in the south Atlantic after it left Brazil on its way to China with a shipment of iron ore. Some 22 crew are unaccounted for, though two Filipino crewmen were rescued from a life raft. The Brazilian and Uruguayan militaries are assisting in efforts to locate the vessel after it sent a distress signal to the ship operator, saying the vessel is taking on water.
Venezuela: Oil spill halts exports at Jose terminal
Reuters reported that operations at the Jose terminal, Venezuela's main export facility, had halted due to an oil spill. The disruption was caused by a rupture in a pipeline that runs from the terminal to a mooring facility. The extent of the spill and anticipated length of the outage were unclear, but the incident came as state oil company PDVSA was forced to contend with shortages of petrol that began days earlier. Unplanned supply disruptions are common in Venezuela as a result of poor infrastructure.
Vietnam: Hanoi criticises Taipei for drills on dispute island
Vietnam has denounced Taiwan's military drills on and around the disputed South China Sea island of Itu Aba, in the Spratly archipelago, calling the drills a violation of sovereignty and a threat to maritime security. Most of Vietnam's disputes over the islands have been with mainland China, which has conducted a militarisation of several shoals since 2012, though Taiwan also has claims to the Spratlys, which are less frequently the main source of diplomatic tension.
Yemen: Authorities foil smuggling attempt in Aden
Maritime security forces in Aden arrested 13 crew on board a foreign vessel and prevented an attempt to smuggle timber. Security personnel boarded the vessel around 16 km from Aden after it refused to stop. The vessel, and its Arab captain, were forcibly returned to the port.