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 January 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
03 Apr 18 Missile Attack Against Saudi Tanker – A Saudi tanker, the Abqaiq, was struck by Yemen’s Houthi rebels using a surface-to-air missile repurposed for the surface-to-surface role, and launched from a land-based site near Al-Hudaydah. No casualties were reported and the vessel remained seaworthy. The tanker was under escort by a Saudi warship at the time of the attack. There is no indication of Houthi intent to target non-Saudi shipping.
No significant piracy activity was reported through the Indian Ocean High Risk Area (HRA) during April 18; however significant overspill from the Yemeni civil war continues to threaten maritime traffic, and may escalate over the coming months.
On 03 April, the Yemeni Houthi group struck the Saudi-flagged tanker, Abqaiq, with a repurposed surface-to-air missile, fired from an land-based launch site. The missile failed to cause serious damage – the Houthi appear to have hoped the warhead would ignite the tanker’s cargo – although the hull was breached above the waterline. Such attacks by the Houthi are generally conducted in response to activities undertaken by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen conflict, in this case as retaliation for civilian casualties inflicted by a series of airstrikes around Al-Hudaydah. Further coalition airstrikes were met with missile attacks against state oil infrastructure around Jizan. No significant damage has been reported, but the threat persists. Local reporting suggests that the Yemeni Government and its Saudi-coalition allies are preparing for a ground offensive against Al-Hudayhah. Regardless of the success of such an operation, the Houthi are likely to respond to this with further attacks against Saudi targets either in the Red Sea, or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself.
On 24 April, a Saudi government press release suggested that 19 ships, totalling approximately 310,000dwt, had been held outside the port of Al-Hudaydah by the Houthi group for the previous month. The vessels were reported to be a mix of light product and petroleum tankers, and remain held beyond port limits, despite no other vessels occupying the port’s berths. Saudi military officials indicated their beliefs that the Houthi planned to sink the vessels, although there has been no verification of this by other factions or the Houthi. Indeed, the Saudi-coalition functionally controls maritime access to Al-Hudaydah, so it remains unclear why they were authorised to approach the port. EUNAVFOR was reportedly unaware of any incident regarding the vessels prior to the Saudi statement on 24 April, strongly suggestive that no mayday signal was sent by any of the vessels prior to or during their alleged capture.
GULF OF GUINEA: SITUATION SUMMARY
01 Apr 18 Vessel Approached near Takoradi, Ghana – A container ship was approached by two small boats, carrying up to nine people, at 04°31’N 001°21’E. The small boats ceased pursuit following the container ship’s evasive actions.
03 Apr 18 Vessel Fired Upon near Bonny, Nigeria – Up to 12 armed pirates aboard a speedboat chased and fired upon a product tanker at 03°29’N 006°36’E. Onboard armed security and the tanker’s evasive manoeuvres prevented boarding. All crew reported safe.
07 Apr 18 Vessel Boarded near Bonny, Nigeria – Four armed pirates boarded an underway merchant vessel at 03°37’N 007°07’E. The crew mustered in the citadel and were reported safe.
21 Apr 18 Vessel Boarded off Bonny Island, Nigeria – A merchant vessel was attacked and boarded at 03°33’N 007°02’E, approximately 50nm south of Bonny Island. 11 of 14 crew member were kidnapped. Three remaining crew were reported safe
21 Apr 18 Attempted Boarding in Douala Port, Cameroon – Two robbers attempted to board a utility vessel at 04°00’N 009°40’E by climbing the rear scaffold. An onboard security guard fired a warning shot and the robbers aborted their attempt.
26 Apr 18 Fishing Vessel Hijacked off Ghana – A fishing vessel underway at 05°20’N, 000°51’E was boarded and hijacked. The vessel was released with three crew missing, who were later also released safe and unharmed on 27 April.
29 Apr 18 Attempted Robbery at Takoradi, Ghana – A merchant vessel at anchor 04°53’N, 001°43’E was boarded by a lone person. Upon being spotted, the robber dived overboard. Nothing was reported stolen.
April saw a relative lull in pirate activity in the Gulf of Guinea, particularly around the mid-month period, although the region remained the most active hotspot for global piracy events.
The most numerous and severe hotspot remains the waters to the south of Bonny Island and the Niger Delta, with armed attackers persistently seeking to board vessels. The primary intent of such boardings appears to be the kidnap of crew members, hijacks in this area remain less prevalent than further west, despite the higher frequency of attacks overall. The two recorded firearms incidents through April, one against an attempted boarding, and one warning shot against a thief in Doula, highlights that pirates remain generally unwilling to confront and overcome armed security personnel. Instances of boardings and crew kidnaps have occurred against vessels where the armed security teams were unavailable to hold attackers at bay. Evasive manoeuvring and vessel hardening appear to remain somewhat effective, although they are less likely to stop determined attackers.
The hijacking of a fishing vessel between Accra and Lome demonstrates that the threat of hijack continues to extend west of Nigeria, although the threat to larger vessels evidenced by the series of attacks in Cotonou earlier in the year, appears to have receded. In this instance, all crew members were reported safe within two days of the attack and kidnap; it remains unclear whether the vessel owner made a ransom payment.
The aforementioned incident in Doula, combined with an approach and failed robbery in Takoradi, highlights that theft at anchor remains a persistent threat at ports throughout the Gulf of Guinea. Both incidents reported during this period were failed attempts to steal ship’s stores or crew possessions, however the risk of more sophisticated thefts targeting cargo remains prominent. Considering the probability that petty thefts from anchor may not be noted or reported, the limited number of incidents over the last reported period should not be mistaken for a significant downward trend in activity.
South East Asia: Situation Summary
04 Apr 18 Theft at Anchor in Muara Berau Anchorage, Indonesia – Robbers boarded a vessel at 00°15’S 117°34’E, broke into the forepeak store, and escaped with ship’s property. The crew noted a suspicious vessel in the vicinity and raised the alarm before discovering the theft.
05 Apr 18 Suspicious Approach against Sailing Vessel, South China Sea – A small vessel containing two men approached a 14m catamaran at speed to within 200m at 17°16’N 111°16’E. The catamaran issued a Mayday, which was responded to by a cruise liner. The suspect vessel moved away.
12 Apr 18 Theft at Anchor in Chittagong, Bangladesh – Robbers boarded a vessel at 22°13’N 091°45’E, assaulted the vessel’s watchkeeper, and fled with ship’s stores.
17 Apr 18 Attempted Theft at Anchor in Chittagong, Bangladesh – Six robbers attempted to board a vessel at 22°11’N 091°42’E. One crew member was threatened with a knife before the alarm was raised and the attackers fled.
18 Apr 18 Robbery At Anchor in Samarinda Indonesia – A vessel anchored at 00°15’S 117°38’E discovered the forecastle store had been broken into. Robbers were believed to have boarded via the anchor chain.
21 Apr 18 Vessel Boarded at Nongsa Port, Indonesia – Four robbers boarded a vessel underway at 01°16’N 104°09’E, and entered the engine room. Crew raised the alarm and robbers fled empty handed.
21 Apr 18 Attempted Boarding at Muara Berau, Indonesia – Robbers aboard a small board attempted to climb the anchor chain of a vessel at 14°36’S 117°35’E. The crew raised the alarm and robbers left the vessel.
Reporting of maritime criminal activity remained within recent trends throughout April 2018, which the majority of reported incidents being robberies, typically targeting vessels at anchor. The only violent instances were reported in Bangladesh’s Chittagong anchorage, where crew members were threatened or beaten when discovering the attackers. No serious or life threatening injuries were sustained. Despite the relatively benign nature of reported incidents, seafarers planning to transit the area should be aware that under-reporting remains a critical issue, and thefts or violent attacks are believed to occur far more frequently than reported.
More significantly, a sailing vessel reported a suspicious approach in the South China Sea. The catamaran reported being shadowed by skiffs for several hours before the suspicious skiffs were driven off by a cruise vessel responding to the mayday. It is unlikely that the potential attackers were dedicated pirates, however the incident highlights the possibility of opportunistic piracy or maritime crime conducted by subsistence fishermen against soft targets in isolated areas.
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 BMP4 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.