Solace Global Maritime Security compile a monthly report, summarising maritime incidents in areas of high risk piracy and other security threats.
The report is researched and collated by the Solace Global in-house intelligence team. The report covering the month of July looks at the following three areas:
- High Risk Area (Indian Ocean)
- Gulf of Guinea & West Coast of Africa
- South East Asia
High Risk Area: SITUATION SUMMARY
04 July 18 Suspicious Approach ENE of Muscat. Two white-hulled skiffs approached to within 500m of a merchant vessel at 24°02’N 059°55’E. Vessel and crew were reported safe.
04 July 18 Merchant Vessel Fired Upon in the Southern Red Sea. A merchant vessel transiting northwards in the Red Sea was approached by three high-speed skiffs at 13°33’N 042°40’E, near the Hanish islands. Each skiff contained up to eight armed persons, who fired upon the MV as they closed. Armed security personnel returned fire and compelled the attackers to abort their approach. Vessel and crew were reported safe.
11 July 18 Suspicious Approach near Hanish Islands, Southern Red Sea. A merchant vessel sighted a group of skiffs at 13°22’N 042°45’E. One skiff, carrying eight persons, approached to within 0.2nm of the MV, and ladders were sighted. Embarked security personnel displayed their weapons and the skiff moved away.
22 July 18 Attack Reported near Baraawe, Somalia. A merchant vessel reported coming under attack by mortar fire at 01°06’N 044°02’E. on approach to Baraawe while conducting resupply operations to African Union forces. The attackers were believed to be Al Shabaab insurgents. No significant harm to the vessel or crew was reported.
25 July 18 Saudi Vessel Attacked near Al Hudaydah. Houthi rebels conducted attacks against two Saudi tankers transiting the Red Sea. The Saudi coalition reported that the attacks were conducted with explosive-laden fast boats. One vessel suffered minor damage, and all crew were reported safe. The Saudi state oil producer indicated that they intend to suspend oil shipments through the Bab el Mandeb in order to minimise the threat to their vessels.
July2018 saw a continuation of recent trends, particularly within the Bab-el-Mandeb and southern Red Sea, in addition to noteworthy incidents further afield near Muscat, and the southern Somali coast.
The Bab-el-Mandeb saw two piracy incidents through the period; a firearms attack against a vessel on 04 July, and a suspicious approach by skiffs carrying ladders on 11 July. In both cases, the vessels had embarked armed security personnel, who returned fire against the attack on the fourth, and displayed weapons on 11 July. In both cases, these measures compelled the attackers to cease their attempts. These attacks clearly demonstrate that the Bab-el-Mandeb remains vulnerable to piracy, and this has likely been exacerbated by increased by the damage and disruption following serious storms earlier in the season. Considering the persistence of poverty and unrest on both sides of the Bab-el-Mandeb, it is likely that future conflicts or environmental issues are likely to increase the threat further.
The two attacks conducted against Saudi oil tankers on 25 July also represent a continuation of a previous trend, although the proposed response by the Saudis and their allies are more significant than previously. Detailed reporting of the incidents remains sparse, however it appears that both vessels were attacked by fast boats loaded with improvised explosive devices approximately 70nm west of the Houthi stronghold of Al Hudaydah. Only one vessel, identified by the Houthi as the Dammam, was reported to be have suffered minor damage, whilst the coalition successfully sunk the boat attacking the second, unidentified, tanker. From this, we can place this within prior trends in which Saudi-flagged vessels, particularly those under escort by warships, have been targeted by Yemen’s Houthi group in response to the Saudi-led air offensive against them. It is highly likely that this threat against Saudi shipping will persist, however the threat against vessels bearing other flag-states or without military escort remains low.
More significant, however, has been the response to these attacks. The Saudi state oil company has indicated its intent to reroute all its vessels to avoid transiting the Bab-el-Mandeb, leading to a notable increase in the global price of oil. Considering the limited actual impact of the Houthi’s attacks, it may be considered that this measure is disproportionate, and the Saudis may intend this move to encourage other parties to join their operations against the Houthi in order to better secure their oil supply. Saudi-coalition media releases relating to this and previous attacks have routinely indicated the threat to global traffic, despite the clear absence of such attacks, in order to pursue this agenda.
The suspicious approach off Muscat, at 24°02’N 059°55’E, marks a potential divergence from the pattern cast by regional pirate activity, however it has not been confirmed as a pirate incident. Whilst the possibility cannot be eliminated, agencies such as UKMTO have previously attributed aggressive actions by skiffs in that area to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishermen. Those involved in IUU frequently conduct aggressive manoeuvring in order to protect their nets, and due to the nature of their trade, are more likely to come into contact with commercial traffic than legal operations. Such groups also frequently carry weapons. The line, therefore, between pirates and IUU fishermen is essentially defined by whether they actively push to come alongside target vessels. Vessels should maintain a rigorous watch and continue to report all potential incidents.
To the south of the Somali coast, a vessel delivering supplies to the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM), came under mortar fire upon approach to Baraawe. The attack commenced when the vessel was within 1km of the shoreline, however the vessel and crew were reported safe upon entry to the port. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, however AMISOM sources attributed the attack to Al Shabaab insurgents. The vessel’s AMISOM mission, and extreme proximity to the coast make it highly unlikely that this attack signals the development of a serious intent by Al Shabaab to target commercial traffic from the Somali coast.
GULF OF GUINEA: SITUATION SUMMARY
01 July 18 Vessel Attacked South of Bonny Island, Nigeria. A vessel came under attack by pirates at 04°08’N 006°57’E, 20 nm from Bonny Island, at 1040hrs. The vessel and crew were later reported safe. Further details of the attack remain unclear.
03 July 18 Vessel Boarded in Lagos, Nigeria. A vessel anchored at 06°16’N 003°11’E was boarded by a lone intruder using the cover of darkness. The intruder was spotted by duty personnel and escaped in a small boat moored to the anchor chain.
03 July 18 Tug Approached South West of Beyelsa, Nigeria. A tug boat was approached by a fishing boat and skiff. At 01°49’N 003°12’E. The skiff approached to within 0.5nm, but repeated attempts to come alongside were prevented by heavy swell and evasive actions. After five hours, the skiff moved away.
22 July 18 Merchant Vessel Approached South of Lome, Togo. A merchant vessel at 01°30’N 001°15’E was approached by a blue and white fishing vessel. The fishing vessel launched two skiffs which attempted to board the MV. The MV’s evasive manoeuvres prevented skiffs closing to within 0.5nm. All crew and vessel reported safe. The significant distance from shore indicates that this group may seek to conduct further attacks throughout the Gulf of Guinea, and presently makes identifying their country of origin impossible.
July has seen maritime security issues in the Gulf of Guinea persist, but remain within established trends. Thefts at anchor and attacks against vessels underway have persisted. In addtion, an International Maritime Bureau report has highlighted that the region has been the only one to have reported kidnaps against seafarers in 2018.
The attempted robbery reported in Lagos demonstrates the continued threat to vessels and crews posed by opportunistic individuals and small groups. This attacker’s objective was likely the crew’s personal possessions, or man-portable ship’s spares. However, the practice of boarding vessels at anchor has been used to precipitate hijackings in Cotonou, or to install hoses to steal fuel or cargo throughout Nigeria. Crews should therefore take all practical measures to harden their vessels whilst in port to reduce the risk from attempted boarding.
The attempted attack near Port Harcourt and Bonny Island remains poorly reported, the method or type of attack remains unclear, the only details reported were the location, and the vessel’s status as safe following the incident. The area has previously seen widespread efforts to conduct hijacks, both to ransom the crew, and to steal the cargo. It is likely that such a hijack was the objective of this attack.
The two attacks in proximity to each other on 03 and 22 July exhibit sufficient similarities it is likely they were conducted by the same group. In both cases, tugs reported a fishing vessel approaching them before lowering skiffs which attempted to approach the tug boats. In both cases vessel hardening and sea conditions prevented the attackers from successfully boarding the vessels. Considering the nature of the targets, the attackers were unlikely to be motivated by theft of cargo, it is therefore highly likely that the attackers sought to hijack the vessel, whether for ransom, or for the vessel itself. The use of a fishing boat as a mothership for skiffs appears to demonstrate the development of tactics similar of those to Somali pirates to allow attacks to be conducted further from shore. It also highlights that this pirate group were likely fishermen willing to seize an opportunity, marked by their vessels and confidence in operating in a blue water environment.
The International Maritime Bureau released a report analysing piracy and maritime crime statistics for the second quarter of 2018. A key element of this report was the Gulf of Guinea’s status as the only region with reported kidnappings in 2018, totalling 25 events. Their assessment concluded that kidnaps of local seafarers are likely to be substantially more frequent than those incidents reported. Therefore, vessels should continue to maintain an effective watch at all times, and may consider the use of armed security personnel in order to further mitigate the threat.
South East Asia: Situation Summary
02 July 18 Human Trafficking Vessel Capsized off Penerang, Malaysia. An overloaded speedboat containing at least 44 illegal immigrants capsized 6nm off the coast of Penerang, southern Malaysia. At least one died, with a further 18 missing.
03 July 18 Vessel boarded in Chittagong, Bangladesh. Eight robbers boarded a bulk carrier anchored at 22°19’N 091°43’E. They tied up the duty watchman, and escaped having stolen the aft mooring rope.
03 July 18 Tug and Barge Boarded near Tanjung Piai. A tug boat and barge carrying a cargo of scrap metal was boarded by 10 individuals from six sampans at 01°12’N 103°33’E. The perpetrators stole cargo from the barge and fled as the alarm was raised.
06 July 18 Theft from Tug in Pulau Batam. Four coils of towline were stolen from a Singapore-flagged tugboat operating near Pulau Batam between 0130LT and 0330LT. Coastguard reported that the tug appeared to be followed by two Sampans for approximately two hours before the theft was discovered. All crew were unharmed.
10 July 18 Theft at Anchor, Sandakan, Malaysia. An unknown number of robbers boarded a berthed tanker in Sandakan and escaped with ship’s properties. The theft was later discovered by duty crew members. Vessel and crew otherwise unharmed.
19 July 18 Theft from Vessel in Chittagong Anchorage, Bangladesh. Thieves boarded a container vessel at 22°02’N 091°46’E undetected and escaped with three mooring ropes. Upon the alarm being raised, Bangladeshi law enforcement conducted a search, resulting in the stolen properties being returned to the vessel.
26 July 18 Attempted Boarding from Vessel near Bontang, Indonesia. Duty crew members spotted robbers seeking to climb the hawse pipe of a vessel at 00°04’S 117°35’E. The crew mustered and raised the alarm, forcing the robbers to flee empty handed.
July saw a significant increase in maritime criminal activity compared to June 18, with seven incidents reported. Of these, six can be categorised as thefts, either from anchor, or a vessel underway. The seventh, a maritime accident involving members of an organised criminal group highlights wider maritime security issues in the region.
Thefts, or attempted thefts, from vessels at anchor occurred in Chittagong, Bangladesh; Sandakan, Malaysia; and Bontang Indonesia. In all cases robbers appeared to target ship’s stores, and on three occasions either escaped undetected, or fled empty handed when the alarm was raised. On 03 July, robbers in Chittagong took more aggressive action and detained a duty watchman aboard a bulk carrier, before escaping with a stolen mooring rope. Limited reporting concerning this incident is available, however it is likely that the thieves attempted to use stealth, and only took action against the watchman when surprised at close quarters. The crewman was not reported to have sustained any significant injuries during this attack. These events highlight that the most effective countermeasure against robbers is to harden the vessel and maintain watches with the intent of preventing them from boarding. Actions on robbers successfully boarding a vessel should be to raise the alarm and muster the crew, rather than a lone crewman seeking to investigate or confront the thieves.
Two thefts reported during the period against vessels underway targeted tugboats or their barges in the vicinity of the Singapore Straits. In both cases, the attackers boarded the vessel from small boats or Sampans under cover of darkness, and targeted ship’s stores or the cargo of scrap metal. The attacker on 06 July escaped undetected, whilst on 03 July they were compelled to flee when the alarm was raised. These attacks highlight the persistent threat to “low and slow” vessels operating in the constricted waters surrounding the Singapore Straits. Sheltered waters and dense traffic provide potential attackers with numerous targets and opportunities to approach undetected. Although no crew members were harmed during these incidents, similar attacks previously have resulted in crewmembers being threatened or attacked with bladed weapons.
The capsize of a speedboat engaged in human trafficking on 02 July posed little direct threat to commercial shipping, however it highlights the prevalence of organised criminal activity which occurs in the maritime domain surrounding Singapore. International agencies have identified Singapore as a regional hub for human trafficking, primarily due to the city-state’s relatively high wealth compared to its surrounding states. This acts a significant pull-factor for migration, and numerous criminal groups exploit the willingness of people to move to Singapore through non-official channels. Vessel operators should remain aware that this capsize represents only a small part of a wider trade which may result in further accidents, or in attempts to stowaway on commercial vessels. Disruptions may therefore stem from future rescue and recovery operations, or potential reputational harm if illegal migrants are found to be using a company’s vessels. Rigorous watches and in-port security measures should be implemented at all times.
High Maritime Piracy Risk
Solace Global remains available to provide the full range of Maritime Security Solutions and Travel Risk Management Solutions. Vessels transiting High-Risk Areas should maintain a heightened level of surveillance and proceed with caution. Vessels should also ensure all BMP5 measures are in place to the fullest extent possible. Solace Global Maritime Security advise, and have implemented, 24-hour anti-piracy watches and provide armed and unarmed vessel protection services. In addition, Solace Global Maritime Security are also able to offer crew training, port and destination risk assessments, stowaway prevention and kidnap response.