Houthi Attack on Saudi Tanker, April 2018, and Ongoing Maritime Risks
5 Apr 2018
An explosion occurred aboard an as-yet-unidentified Saudi-flagged oil tanker at approximately 0915UTC, 03 April 2018, whilst transiting north of the Bab-el-Mandeb at 14°29’N 042°11’E. Initial reporting suggested this was the result of a waterborne improvised explosive device (WBIED). Release of further information, including images of the damage, have since indicated that the explosion was almost certain to have been caused by the impact of a missile or rocket, although the type and launch methodology remains unclear.
- A Saudi-flagged oil tanker was attacked by Houthi maritime forces at approximately 0915UTC on 03 April 2018.
- An explosion resulted in damage to the tanker’s hull, however it remained seaworthy.
- The attack was almost certainly conducted with a missile, however the type remains unclear.
Maritime: An explosion occurred aboard an as-yet-unidentified Saudi-flagged oil tanker at approximately 0915UTC, 03 April 2018, whilst transiting north of the Bab-el-Mandeb at 14°29’N 042°11’E. Initial reporting suggested this was the result of a waterborne improvised explosive device (WBIED). Release of further information, including images of the damage, have since indicated that the explosion was almost certain to have been caused by the impact of a missile or rocket, although the type and launch methodology remains unclear.
The damaged tanker was then escorted away from the incident by a Saudi destroyer.
The Houthi rebels have claimed the attack, citing a number of civilian casualties resulting from Saudi airstrikes in Al Hudaydah as the motive behind the attack.
Solace Global Comment
This attack in the Red Sea falls in line with previous attacks conducted by the Houthi group in the region. Saudi-coalition warships, as well as the USS Mason, in the vicinity of Al Hudaydah have previously been attacked with guided-missiles; and a Saudi-flagged tanker under naval escort came under attack by unmanned WBIED in January, although this attack was defeated by an escorting warship.
Despite the continuation of these attacks, the Houthi group appears to pose a limited threat to non-Saudi civilian shipping. Whilst a number of third-party countries have reported approaches, only Saudi civilian vessels have come under direct attack, and in all reported cases they have come under attack whilst under escort by Saudi warships. The attacks on US warships earlier in the conflict were likely due to mistaken identity, such attacks have not occurred since late 2016. This trend is likely to continue as the Houthi group stands to gain no advantage by drawing other powers into the coalition against it.
A more significant threat to commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden or Red Sea may stem from Islamist groups including, but not limited to, Islamic State or Al Qaeda. These groups are known to have a foothold in Yemen, facilitated by the persistent violence and unrest, and have an ideological motive to strike at significant western and civilian targets. The proliferation of weapons in Yemen and the surrounding region makes it a realistic possibility that such a group may seek to conduct an attack against shipping, most likely using a WBIED. At present there is no information suggesting that this poses an imminent threat.
Piracy remains a threat throughout the area, with suspicious approaches reported with some frequency in the vicinity of the Bab-el-Mandeb, and between Socotra and Al Mukalla. Unlike the Houthi, pirate groups are highly unlikely to discriminate based on flag-state, and may target any vessel which appears vulnerable to attack. For this reason, continued compliance with BMP4 anti-piracy measures remains the most valuable security precautions to most vessels.
SECURITY ADVICEMaritime PiracyHigh
Vessels transiting the HRA should maintain a heightened level of surveillance, particularly when passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. There continue to be frequent reports of attacks and suspicious approaches on merchant vessels transiting the straits, and southern Red Sea during daylight hours. Houthi naval mines have also been reported uncovered and defused along Yemenâs coastline, and there is a high likelihood that the group will continue to target Saudi-coalition assets. It is advised all vessels transiting the HRA to proceed with extreme caution and conduct a thorough risk assessment on each voyage, considering the risk of transiting the strait during daylight or dark hours. Vessels should ensure all BMP4 measures are in place, with the use of hardening vessel measures, and embarked armed security teams. It is also recommended for vessels to transit the High Risk Area using the Maritime Transit Security Corridor. Solace Global advise, and have implemented, 24-hour, armed maritime security watches when transiting the strait.
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