Proven Expertise

Weekly Maritime Security Report 28 March 2017

East Africa and the Indian Ocean


Somalia: Update: Police say pirates hijack fishing vessel off Eyl

24 March
Local police reported that pirates successfully hijacked a fishing vessel off Eyl, Puntland, and are thought to have headed out to sea to use the vessel as a mothership for further hijackings. The assailants dropped off 10 Yemeni crew members onshore, although the captain, engineer and cook remain on board the vessel. The incident marks the second hijacking in the area in March.

PGI Analysis: Statements by local police indicate a fishing vessel was hijacked off Eyl on 24 March, rather than a merchant vessel as first reported by the UKMTO. The head of the maritime police forces in Puntland said the vessel was hijacked to serve as a launchpad for attacks on larger ships, a claim which has been corroborated by residents from Marrayo, a northern village near the pirate stronghold of Eyl, who confirmed that pirates from their village had gone to hunt potential targets. This follows the hijacking of the Aris 13 bunkering tanker on 13 March as it transited through the Socotra Gap, which resulted in the kidnap and detention of the eight crew members for three days before Puntland security forces and local elders secured their release.

The incidents reinforce concerns over a resurgence of pirate activity in the High Risk Area (HRA). Although the last successful attack against a large commercial vessel off Somalia was reported in 2012, the drivers of the piracy epidemic, including tensions over illegal fishing and difficult economic conditions in Somalia, remain in place. Pirates are also likely to have been emboldened by the drawdown of international naval forces in the region after NATO ended its counter-piracy mission Ocean Shield in the region in December 2016, as well as growing signs that vessels transiting the region are relaxing their onboard security measures. Vessels transiting the HRA are therefore advised to implement BMP4 measures to mitigate the risk of boardings.

For further analysis of the piracy threat to the region read PGI's Insight here.

Somalia: Update: Hostages report pirates threatened their lives
21 March
A victim of the Aris 13 Hijacking on 13 March reported that pirates ordered him to say his final goodbyes to his family during the shootout with Puntland forces on 16 March. The relatives of other hostages also reported being contacted and asked to urge the government and port authorities to halt the shootout. Puntland forces threatened the pirates with violence should they not release the victims.

Mozambique: Pirates attempt to rob carrier at Beira Port
22 March
During cargo operations, duty crew on routine rounds onboard a bulk carrier noticed two robbers armed with knives on the poop deck at 2315 hrs local time at Berth No 6, Port of Beira. Crew mustered and then proceeded to the poop deck, while informing the Chief Officer via walkie talkie. Upon seeing the crew's alertness, the robbers jumped overboard and escaped without stealing anything.

PGI Analysis: The piracy attempt highlights persistent concerns over security at Beira port, after reports in January that organised crime rings had been looting fuel and trucks leaving from the port, facilitated by a lack of police presence. The incident also indicates the importance of vigilance by crew at night, when pirates attempt to profit from reduced visibility.


Southeast Asia


Indonesia: Tanker reports suspicious approach off the coast of Pulau Nipah

26 March

A tanker ship reported a suspicious approach by two speed boats with two to three persons on board at 1254 hrs local time off the coast of Pulau Nipah. The tanker took evasive actions, sounded the ship's horn and directed signalling lamps towards the approaching speedboats. The two boats abandoned the pursuit at a distance of 15 metres.


PGI Analysis: Recent reports indicate the incidence of piracy in the Malacca Strait has diminished, with the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) Information Sharing Centre reporting only one pirate attack in the first 11 months of 2016. Nonetheless, the latest suspicious approach demonstrates that attempted attacks in the strait continue.


Philippines: Military rescues two crewmen kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf in Sulu

25 March

The Philippine military has rescued two Filipino cargo ship crewmen kidnapped on 23 March from the Sulu Sea by Abu Sayyaf (ASG) militants. The military rescued the ship captain and an engineer from the remote village of Basakan, on Basilan island, the stronghold of ASG. The soldiers also captured a wounded ASG suspect during a pursuit. The militant group kidnapped the two crewmen just hours after soldiers rescued two Malaysians held for about eight months on the island.


Philippines: Militants board cargo vessel off Mindanao, abduct two

23 March

According to the Philippines coast guard, militants on three speed boats boarded a cargo ship heading for General Santos City on Mindanao, abducting the vessel's captain and chief engineer. Initial reports did not confirm the exact location of the incident. Local officials said that they believed that Abu Sayyaf Group militants were responsible for the attack. The abduction came hours after security forces rescued two Malaysians, abducted eight months ago, from militants in the Sulu archipelago.


Philippines: Security forces rescue Malaysian captives off Sulu

23 March

Security forces raided a militant base in the Sulu peninsula off Pata Island and rescued two Malaysian nationals abducted by Abu Sayyaf Group militants eight months ago. Initial reports did not confirm further details of the operation. Those rescued were among five members of a Malaysian tugboat crew abducted in Sabah state in July 2016.


PGI Analysis: The Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has been responsible for a surge in piracy in the Sulu and Celebes seas since March 2016, as kidnap for ransom remains a key source of financing for the militants. Chief of the Armed Forces General Eduardo Año reported that, as of 27 March, the group was holding 27 people hostage. The group commonly executes hostages if ransoms are not paid before a specified deadline.


West Africa


Nigeria: AFRICOM organises anti-piracy exercise in Gulf of Guinea

23 March

The US African Command (AFRICOM) announced that the US Navy would hold an exercise with the Nigerian military and other regional forces to improve anti-piracy and smuggling activities at sea and on land. The exercise, dubbed "Obangame Express 2017" aims at increasing maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea.


PGI Analysis: The military exercise comes amid an uptick in pirate attacks onmerchant vessels in the region since January 2016. This trend has been attributed to regional militant gangs opting for the kidnap of crew over oil theft as their primary source of revenue. 


Select Maritime News


Australia: Canberra plans coastal shipping reform

23 March

A discussion paper released by the Australian government proposes reforming the nation's coastal shipping sector with a view to improving the regulatory environment. The government is calling on companies in the sector, as well as other stakeholders, to comment on their proposals. Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester commented that the aim of the proposals is to reduce the regulatory burden on companies while keeping the basic structure of the regulatory regime intact.


Australia: Pilbara closes Dampier port due to poor weather

22 March

The Pilbara Ports Authority said it had closed the Dampier port as a tropical low developed north of Pilbara. The Authority said that all vessels would be cleared from the Dampier port, with Port Hedland and Ashburn remaining open. Port Hedland is the world's biggest iron ore export terminal.


China: Hong Kong customs begins prosecution over Singapore military vessels

23 March

The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department has told local media that it started the prosecution of shipping firm APL over the failed shipment of nine military vehicles from Taiwan to Singapore without a proper licence. The vehicles were seized by the Chinese authorities in November 2016 as they were in transit in Hong Kong between Taiwan's Kaohsiung port and Singapore. The incident caused a major diplomatic dispute between the countries, though the vehicles were returned to Singapore on 30 January after a two-month detention.


China: Maritime Safety Administration penalises foreign ship for sulphur violation

23 March

According to the American Steamship Owners Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association (American Club), the Maritime Safety Administrations (MSAs) in Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality have penalised a foreign flagged ship for using fuel with sulphur content exceeding the legal maximum. The details of how the vessel was penalised are not clear. This is the first case reported of non-compliant fuel use in China since regulations changed on 1 January 2017.


China: Beijing denies Manila reports of construction on Scarborough Shoal

22 March

The Chinese foreign ministry has denied the Philippines's claims that Beijing has begun preparing construction work for an environmental monitoring station on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, in the South China Sea. Chinese naval forces have blockaded the shoal since 2012, but the ministry said reports on the construction are "mistaken" and re-emphasised the importance of good relations with Manila. Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has previously called Chinese activities in Scarborough Shoal a "red line", after the Chinese built military infrastructure on some islands in the Spratly archipelago.


Cote d'Ivoire: Update: Authorities reduce security at ports following threat assessment

27 March

The head of maritime security, Colonel Bertin Koffi Tano, issued an order to return the security at the ports in Abidjan and San Pedro to regular levels. Authorities had increased security on 26 March following reports of "probable terrorist attacks". Tano claimed that after "compiling the information" the reports had been proven unsubstantiated. Al-Qaeda staged a major attack on a beach resort in Grand Bassam, near Abidjan, in March 2016.


Cote d'Ivoire: Authorities increase security at ports in Abidjan, San Pedro

26 March

Port authorities announced they had strengthened security measures at the ports in Abidjan and San Pedro following reports of "probable terrorist attacks". The Autonomous Port of Abidjan confirmed the news, claiming security had been increased to the second of three security levels. There were no reports on the specific threats made against the ports. Al-Qaeda staged a major attack on a beach resort in Grand Bassam, near Abidjan, in March 2016.


Greece: Government receives three bids for Thessaloniki port

26 March

The state privatisation agency said that it received three bids for the sale of a 67 percent stake in Thessaloniki port from the Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services, Dubai-based DP World and German private equity firm Deutsche Invest Equity Partners. The sale was launched in 2014 as part of efforts to sell state-owned infrastructure to guarantee international bailouts, though it has been repeatedly delayed by political resistance.


India: Dockworkers threaten strike over port reforms

24 March

The general secretary of the All India Port and Dock Workers' Federation said dockworkers would begin an indefinite strike on 19 April. The union representative said workers were striking over the government's refusal to incorporate changes they had called for to the Central Port Authorities' Bill, which replaces the 1963 Major Ports Act, and which they fear will lead to a loss of jobs.


India: Raids at Chennai port cause severe congestion

21 March

Days of raids by India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and customs officials at Chennai port resulted in significant disruption to container movement. According to local media reports, thousands of containers were awaiting approval from DRI agents, which affected both import and export cargo, although imports were the worst affected. Customs officials claimed that the disruption could have been lower if the port had facilities such as scanners. However, port officials said that the disruption was minimal and that normal services had resumed.  


Indonesia: Port corruption investigation disrupts coal shipments at East Kalimantan

23 March

An investigation by the Transport Minister into corruption at some of Indonesia's top coal export ports has disrupted shipments to trade partners in Asia, according to the ministry. Police raided four port facilities off Samarinda in East Kalimantan, delaying at least 30 shipments which are waiting to load new supplies of coal from the regional mines. The ministry is investigating blackmail and money laundering related to the dealings between coal mining companies and stevedores. Miners are reportedly being asked by stevedores to pay USD 225,000 per month in facilitation payments, adjustable to tonnage of coal exported.


Indonesia: Police seize methamphetamines from North Kalimantan port

22 March

Police forces foiled an attempt to smuggle 7 kg of crystal methamphetamine at Tunon Taka Port, in North Kalimantan's Nunukan area. The narcotics were travelling from Tarakan on passenger ship KM Lambelu when they arrived at the Nunukan port late on 20 March. The police forces said drug smuggling attempts are common near the Indonesian-Malaysian border.


Indonesia: Interpol issues red notices for three Chinese Sinopec executives

21 March

Indonesian police claimed that Interpol has issued red notices, the highest level of international arrest warrant, for three Chinese executives suspected of fraud in a USD 800 mn Sinopec oil terminal development. The Interpol notice was reportedly issued in late February, claiming the executives embezzled an undisclosed sum from the West point Terminal project, which, once completed, would be Asia's largest oil terminal. Sinopec is the second Chinese state oil firm to face corruption allegations in Indonesia, where the oil industry is known for high levels of corruption.


Italy: Humanitarian vessels rescue 1,200 migrants of Libya

26 March

According to Medecins Sans Frontiers, humanitarian ships rescued nearly 1,200 migrants and refugees off the coast of Libya as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean on small vessels. The rescue brings the number of migrants heading to Italy via the Mediterranean route in 2017 to around 22,000. Some 520 migrants are believed to have died during crossing attempts over the same period. The use of humanitarian vessels off the coast of Libya is controversial, as some claim it encourages human smugglers to launch migrants on unseaworthy vessels, ultimately contributing to migrant deaths.


Italy: Aid organisation fears more than 200 missing off Libya

23 March

Spanish aid organisation Proactive Open Arms said it had recovered five bodies near two capsized boats which can each hold up to 100 people. The organisation said although no distress calls were made from the boats, they may have capsized as a result of overcrowding. The Mediterranean migrant route to Europe regained its importance after a deal between the EU and Turkey largely sealed the Aegean route in 2016.


Iran: Tehran denies harassing US warships, warns against clashes

25 March

Iran's deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, denied US accusations that Iran's fast-attack boats were "harassing" US warships at the Strait of Hormuz, and warned that Washington would be responsible for any clashes in the key shipping route. The statement came after US Navy commanders accused Iran of jeopardising international navigation by harassing its warships, and warned that a miscalculation could lead to clashes. The US aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush reportedly confronted two Iranian fast-attack ships after the warship entered the narrow waterway. Tensions between the countries have heightened since the election of Donald Trump, who has condemned the 2015 nuclear deal.


Israel: Damascus threatens Scud attack on military, Haifa port

25 March

According to Israeli and Lebanese media reports, the Syrian government threatened to target Israel with Scud missiles if it conducts further attacks on Syrian territory. The threat was reportedly relayed via Russian authorities. Syria warned it would target Israeli military bases or the Haifa port and nearby petrochemical facilities. Damascus claimed to have an arsenal of 800 Scud missiles. Israel has carried out a number of cross-border attacks against targets in Syria since 2013.


North Korea: Kuala Lumpur claims Navy intercepted North Korean arms shipment to Thailand in 2011

Malaysian naval forces intercepted and turned away a North Korean arms shipment bound for Thailand in 2011, according to Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar. He claimed the authorities at Port Klang seized 250 kg of military communications equipment manufactured by North Korean company Glocom, which was intended to be shipped to an unknown recipient in Thailand. Glocom was found guilty in February of running an arms trading operation out of Kuala Lumpur using front companies. The comments come amid high tensions between Malaysia and Pyongyang after the assassination of Kim Jong-nam at the capital's airport in February.


Philippines: Duterte accuses US of inaction over South China Sea

23 March

President Rodrigo Duterte has accused the US of inaction over the South China Sea, blaming Washington for failing to counter Chinese island-building activities and indirectly causing current diplomatic tensions. Duterte also claimed the US naval forces' freedom of navigation activities could lead to war if an accident were to occur. The statement comes during the same address to reporters in which Duterte said he would be open to sharing the resources in the disputed waters with China, despite rising tensions. The Philippines's relations with the US have been significantly damaged since Duterte came to power in June 2016.


Philippines: Duterte says Manila could share resources with China

23 March

President Rodrigo Duterte told reporters in Manila that the Philippines is open to sharing resources with Beijing amid a long-running and escalating dispute over the South China Sea, which is known to have large reserves of gas and fish. Duterte said that the Philippines does not have the capability to exploit all the available resources on its own. The statement comes as the Philippine defence minister Delfin Lorenzana has accused China of building up military infrastructure on the Scarborough Shoal, which had been described by Lorenzana as a "red line". Duterte has attempted to ease tensions with Beijing since coming to power in June 2016.


Philippines: Beijing says has no dispute with Manila over Benham Rise

23 March

The Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement saying Beijing has not and will not have any dispute with the Philippines over Benham Rise, the waters east of the Philippine island of Luzon. The statement comes after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that Chinese ships have conducted surveillance operations on Benham Rise. It is unclear how Duterte came to learn of this Chinese surveillance operation, or whether it is true. China has a major dispute with Manila over the South China Sea, which has been exacerbated by the military operations conducted by Chinese naval forces at Scarborough Shoal since 2012.


Philippines: Manila to issue strong protest against Beijing's South China Sea activities

21 March

Philippine Justice Minister Vitaliano Aguirre told reporters that Manila plans to file a strong diplomatic protest against China after it conducted preparations for an environmental monitoring station on the disputed Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines had previously described as a "red line". Chinese naval forces have been blocking the shoal, which is within the Philippines's exclusive economic zone, since 2012. President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in June 2016 promising to ease tensions with China, but bilateral ties have not improved and may be worsening due to the new activities. China's reclamation activities had previously been focused on the disputed Spratly islands.


Thailand: Manila, Bangkok agree to support South China Sea freedom of navigation

22 March

During a visit to Bangkok by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, he and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed to emphasise the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, in a statement directed at Beijing. The two leaders also agreed to push for a code of conduct to be established to avoid naval accidents and clashes. In addition, the two countries agreed to enhance maritime cooperation against cross-border criminality. Thailand has previously been somewhat removed from the disputes over the South China Sea, which have been focused on China, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.


Vietnam: Hanoi calls for Seoul support in South China Sea

21 March

During a meeting with South Korea's foreign minister in Hanoi, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc reportedly asked for support from Seoul in its disputes in the South China Sea with China. The prime minister asked Seoul to help improve its law enforcement capabilities in the disputed waters, according to an official statement. It is unclear how the South Korean foreign minister responded to the request. Vietnam and China contest the waters around the Paracel Islands, where both countries have militarised several shoals and reefs in recent years.


Yemen: UN rejects plan to monitor Hodeida

20 March

The UN dismissed a request from the Saudi-led coalition to supervise the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida. The UN said warning parties have a responsibility to protect non-combatants and infrastructure, and that those responsibilities could not be transferred to another group. The coalition called on the UN to monitor the port after Saudi-led forces were blamed for an attack on a boat carrying Somali refugees off Yemen.

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