Weekly Maritime Security Report 16 May 2017
East Africa and the Indian Ocean
Eritrea: Afar ethnic group accuses UAE of airstrikes against fishermen
According to the opposition Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO), the UAE military has been bombing Afar fishermen within Eritrean territorial waters in the Danakalia region, off southern Eritrea. The RSADO said several strikes have taken place against the fishermen in recent weeks. The fishermen are suspected of smuggling food and other supplies to Houthi militants, who the UAE are currently fighting in Yemen.
PGI Analysis: The statement comes amid an escalation of the Houthi conflict at sea, including several reports of sea mines off Yemen's Red Sea coast in recent months. The exact location of the strikes was not disclosed, although it is likely the attacks occurred close to shore away from shipping lanes. The statement underscores the potential for forces to misidentify civilian fishing vessels for those smuggling supplies to Houthi militants. The UN has accused the Saudi-led coalition of causing twice as many civilian casualties as other warring parties in the ongoing Yemeni conflict, largely as a result of air strikes.
Yemen: Skiffs approach merchant vessel in Gulf of Aden
A merchant vessel reported that three skiffs with five to six persons on board came within 600 m of their vessel 73 nm southwest of Mukalla in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) at 0905 hrs local time. The incident prompted an embarked armed security team to fire a warning flare at the skiffs, causing them to alter course and re-join a dhow, 8 nm away from the site of the approach.
PGI Analysis: The approach is the latest incident of suspicious activity off the Yemeni coast in the IRTC following four successful hijackings in the High Risk Area (HRA) since mid-March 2017. Pirates have so far failed to commandeer another large commercial vessel since the hijacking of the Aris 13 bunkering tanker on 13 March, only hijacking small cargo and a fishing vessel since. This has been due to major shippers employing embarked armed security teams for transits through the HRA, as warning shots and flares have been fired at several approaching vessels in the region in recent weeks. The prevalence of approaches since March underscores heightened levels of piracy activity in the region and the need for continued vigilance.
Nigeria: Pirates attack vessel off Kwa Ibo
A mother vessel was approached by two speedboats, each with between six and eight people on board, who boarded the vessel some 19 nm south of Kwa Ibo coast at 2100 hrs local time. On sighting the speedboats, the alert crew raised the alarm and retreated into the citadel for two hours. The attackers fled when a security vessel arrived in support of the mother vessel, and all crew were reported to be safe.
PGI Analysis: It is unclear whether the assailants were armed. Pirates active off Nigeria are notoriously violent and in the past crew have been injured in exchanges of fire between assailants and armed security teams in the region. Nigeria's naval capacity can be slow to respond to distress calls, as the two-hour response time in this incident demonstrates
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Afghanistan: Government grants preliminary approval for Chabahar port development
The Afghan government approved in principle the implementation plan for the development of links to the port of Chabahar in Iran, according to a statement from the president's office. The plan presented by the Ministry of Transportation includes the establishment of a committee, creating parking along the routes, and establishment of representative offices in Zahidan and Chabahar of Iran, Khaama Press reported. India, Iran and Afghanistan are jointly developing Chabahar port to establish trade links between India, through landlocked Afghanistan, to Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. The route bypasses Pakistan, allowing Kabul to lower its substantial reliance on Islamabad for trade.
Cote d'Ivoire: Update: Mutiny affects Abidjan, San Pedro ports
Mutinous soldiers fired into the air in the second port city of San Pedro, forcing local businesses, shops and administrative offices to close down for the day. Local sources reported that San Pedro port was also closed. In Abidjan, businesses closed operations at the port despite the deployment of French troops at Bolloré terminal, largely due to staff not being able to reach the port. Abidjan port remained open on 16 May. The soldier mutiny began on 12 May after commanders announced that former rebels integrated into the army would drop demands for bonus payments.
Cote d'Ivoire: French military deploys to Abidjan port, fighting erupts in Plateau
According to local media reports, the French military deployed soldiers to secure the Bolloré terminal at Abidjan port. The deployment comes amid a soldier mutiny led by former rebels integrated into the Ivorian armed forces. Fighting in Abidjan reportedly spread to the Gallieni military camp in the Plateau district of Abidjan, sparking protests by the local population. Authorities reportedly temporarily shut down civilian transport on the lagoon. Mutinous soldiers have been firing into the air and blocking transport routes in major urban centres in Cote d'Ivoire since 12 May in a dispute over bonus payments.
Ecuador: Agents seize 5.5 metric tonnes of cocaine off Santa Elena
Ecuadorian and Spanish authorities reported they conducted a joint raid on a ship carrying 5.5 metric tonnes of cocaine to Spain concealed among cargo. The shipment is believed to have been organised by a criminal group based in Spain's Galicia region. Authorities arrested 20 men on the ship and a further four in Spain. Spanish authorities did not clarify the date of the operation.
Kenya: Flooding suspends Mtongwe, Likoni channel ferry
Authorities said they were forced to halt the ferry crossing across the Mtongwe and Likoni channels after heavy rains resulted in high tides. It is unclear when the channels will re-open. Heavy rains have hit the Coast and central regions of Kenya in recent days, causing flooding and prompting authorities to issue landslide warnings.
Libya: Coast guard rescues 350 migrants off Sabratha
According to a spokesperson for the Libyan coastguard, naval forces rescued 350 migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya near Sabratha. Libyan officials said that the German NGO Sea-Watch attempted to disrupt the operation as they wanted to rescue the migrants and refugees. The coastguard vessel narrowly avoided a collision with the NGO ship and there were reports that people traffickers opened fire on the coast guard, though there were no reports of injuries. Trafficking groups have increasingly used Libya as a route to smuggle people to Europe amid weak security since 2011.
Libya: UN says 245 may be missing after discovering two shipwrecks
UN agencies say up to 245 migrants and refugees are missing and feared dead after discovering two shipwrecks off the shores of Libya. The shipwrecks come as the weather warms and sea conditions are improving, which the UN says will incentivise more smuggling boats to launch from Libya.
Oman: Police make maritime drug seizure off Taqa
The Royal Oman Police announced the seizure of 2,091 packets of the narcotic khat from a boat in the Sea of Oman. Three people on board the vessel, which was in Omani waters off Taqa province, were arrested. Oman officials periodically seize sizable quantities of drugs at sea and on local beaches.
Philippines: Washington warns of insecurity to seafarers in Sulu, Celebes Seas
The Maritime Administration under the US Department of Transportation called on ships and mariners to remain vigilant when transiting the Sulu and Celebes Seas in the Philippines, citing insecurity. The administration said that there had been at least 14 reported kidnappings and one murder, of which at least 10 incidents were reportedly linked to Islamist group Abu Sayyaf over the past 12 months. The warning came after the US embassy in Manila issued an alert to citizens on 9 May advising them against travel to Palawan province based on intelligence reports that terrorist groups may be planning to kidnap foreigners there.
Philippines: Beijing, Manila to start South China Sea talks
Chinese and Philippine officials will begin bilateral talks over the disputed South China Sea in the week starting 15 May, according to Philippine ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago Santa Romana. President Rodrigo Duterte was visiting Beijing to attend the summit on the "One Belt, One Road" infrastructure initiative, and the talks are set to begin towards the end of his visit. China has not publicly announced such talks. Tensions between the two countries have been high in recent years over China's occupation of islands in the Spratly chain which are claimed by Manila. Beijing also rejected a ruling by The Hague against China's claims to the disputed waters in July 2016.
Somalia: Government holds talks with EU to enhance maritime security
Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and EU Ambassador to Somalia Veronique Lorenzo have met to discuss ways to strengthen the Horn of Africa's maritime security to prevent piracy along the coastline. Lorenzo noted that the EU has been supporting the security sector in Somalia for some time, but that maritime security "is often overlooked", and that security along the coastline is vital for the commercial shipping industry and the private sector in general. The international community has raised concerns amid an uptick in piracy activity in the region in recent weeks, including a series of hijackings off the Somali coast since mid-March 2017.
South Africa: Workers riot, block entrance to Richards Bay Port
Striking construction workers violently protested at the entrance to Richards Bay Port, KwaZulu-Natal, blocking the entrance, overturning two police cars, and vandalising other infrastructure, prompting police to fire shots at the workers. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident. The strike was against Transnet Port Terminals, which issued a notice saying the action was illegal and was conducted by contract workers at its facility, although the motive behind the unrest was unclear. Transnet has since said that the situation has been contained and operations were running smoothly. Disputes between workers and employers often escalate into disruptive strike action across South Africa.
Sri Lanka: Colombo reportedly rejects request for Chinese submarine visit
Sri Lanka has rejected China's request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo later in April, two senior government officials told Reuters. One of the officials added Sri Lanka was unlikely to agree to China's request to dock the submarine at any time, given India's concerns over China's growing influence in Sri Lanka, long viewed as part of its area of influence. Sri Lanka last allowed a Chinese submarine to dock in Colombia in 2014, a move that triggered fierce opposition from New Delhi.
Sweden: Gothenburg port workers threaten six-week strike from 19 May
The Swedish Dockworkers' Union announced APM Terminals employees at Gothenburg are planning a six-week lock-out at the terminal between 19 May-30 June. Previous strikes have caused severe disruption to ships docking at the terminal, although the rest of the port has been largely unaffected by such action. Workers at Gothenburg's APM terminal have held several strikes in recent months in a long-running dispute over labour conditions, although strikes are sometimes called off at short notice.
Tunisia: Government to invest USD 206 mn in Bizerte port
The director general of the Merchant Marine and Ports Administration said that the government has allocated USD 206 mn to develop the Port of Bizerte. The investment will go towards restructuring the port and maintaining commercial infrastructure. Participants in an international conference at the port highlighted the need to create a wharf for tourist vessels. Bizerte port is the second largest in Tunisia.
United Kingdom: Authorities search for man missing from drilling rig in North Sea
Air and maritime teams carried out search operations to locate a man missing from an oil drilling rig 150 km east of Shetland in the North Sea. The alarm was raised late on 9 May when teams failed to locate the man on the rig. The circumstances surrounding his disappearance are unknown. The oil drilling rig was owned by Noble Drilling.
Vietnam: Beijing reports positive talks with Hanoi over South China Sea
China's Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin has told reporters that Chinese and Vietnamese diplomats engaged in positive talks over the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Both sides agreed to make efforts to stabilise the situation and engage in joint resource exploration in the less sensitive areas. In recent years the navies of China and Vietnam have engaged in confrontations over the Paracel islands, with both sides militarising several atolls.
Yemen: Arab coalition to ensure alternative aid routes to Hodeidah
The Saudi-led coalition said it would help pro-government forces restore control over all of Yemen, including the Houthi-held port of Hodeidah. International observers, including the UN, have warned of possible severe humanitarian consequences in the event of an attack on the port, which is responsible for around 80 percent of Yemen's food imports. The Arab coalition said it would find alternative routes for aid and food ahead of an offensive on Hodeidah. Coalition forces remain around 100 km from the port in western Yemen.