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 9 December – 9 January looks at the following areas:
High Risk Area (Indian Ocean)
Gulf of Guinea & West Coast of Africa
South East Asia
There was one significant incident in the Indian Ocean and surrounding areas. An underway vessel was approached by a high-speed skiff on 13 December. However, the onboard security fired several warning shots which deterred the pirates from attacking. Other than this attack the Indian Ocean High Risk Area and the surrounding regions have not seen any other significant incidents in the reporting period. Operation Atlanta (formerly known as EU NAVFOR) taskforce, which has been a key factor in improved security in the Indian Ocean, has now been operating in the region for a decade, celebrating ten years of service on 8 December.
However, the incident on 13 December does demonstrate the importance of onboard armed security teams on vessels despite the relative calm of the region. The combination of the coalition fleets deployed in the region and onboard security has been significant in mitigating the risk that vessels transiting the region face and negates the need to avoid the Indian ocean and transport goods via other sea lanes.
Away from Operation Atlanta, the French Navy Chief, Admiral Christophe Prazuck, is currently in India to hold extensive talks with his Indian counterpart Admiral Sunil Lanba. The aim of the visit is to explore ways to further deepen operational cooperation between the two navies. It is hoped that the admirals can find ways to consolidate bilateral naval relations between the two countries.
The Navy chief of India’s neighbour, Pakistan, has reiterated the country’s robust security posture in the Indian Ocean region and expressed his confidence over operational preparedness of Pakistan Navy to cope with all security challenges. The chief stated that the navy will continue to conduct maritime security patrols to protect national and international shipping against the threats of maritime terrorism, piracy, narco-arms smuggling and human trafficking.
The Hodeidah ceasefire in Yemen has reportedly been broken repeatedly; with Houthi rebels reportedly recently launching several attacks on Yemeni government forces in the strategically important port-city. The attacks have coincided with a reinforcing of their positions in the city. The ceasefire, that went into effect on 18 December, requires the armed forces from both sides to withdraw completely from the city and surrounding areas. However, this has not occurred and, according to a complaint UN Security Council by the two main members of the Saudi-led Coalition (Saudi Arabia and the UAE), the ceasefire has been broken at least 250 times. Several soldiers were also killed during a heavy artillery shelling in the southern Tuhaiyta district of Hodeidah province. It has also been alleged that the Houthi’s are reinforcing their positions with tanks from northern provinces. The continued instability in Hodeidah means that the likelihood of attacks off the coast of the country cannot be ruled out.
NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN HIGH RISK AREA AND EAST AFRICA
An underway Philippines-flagged crude oil tanker was approached at high speed by between 15-20 skiffs at 0845 UTC in the Gulf of Aden (position: 11°57’08″N 045°00’08″E). Embarked armed security teams fired warning shots which deterred the attack. Crew and vessel have been declared safe.
GULF OF GUINEA AND WEST COAST OF AFRICA
In the last month, the Gulf of Guinea has continued to see a heightened threat of piracy activity. The most significant incident occurred on 1 January 2019 when six Russian sailors were kidnapped during an attack off Cotonou, Benin. Elsewhere there were numerous boardings and several attacks underlining the continued security risk when operating merchant vessels in the region. While the statistics vary month on month, it is likely that the frequency of attacks will continue. Despite assurances from governments in the affected area that they will put in place measures to tackle piracy, it is unlikely that major changes will be forthcoming by local or foreign navies to force change.
Nigeria continues to experience the majority of the attacks. The country is not seeing any respite to internal issues, including rising unemployment and economic hardship that are driving piracy. The February election and internal security considerations continue to take precedent over tackling maritime crime with it being unlikely that additional security resources will be deployed in the coming months. This instability is further fuelled by Delta militant groups ending a ceasefire agreement. The Niger Delta Creek Warriors, a coalition of agitators in Niger Delta region, has called off its ceasefire with the Federal Government and Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, over the alleged failure of Federal Government to meet its demands. Additionally, A new militant group, War Against Niger Delta Exploitation, WANDE, has sprung up in the oil-rich region. The new group has consequently threatened to disrupt the 2019 elections, unless the government showed commitment to increase development in the region.
The UN has found that Nigeria has lost USD2.8 billion in 2018 mainly due to oil-related crimes. The findings were made in accordance with a new “Report by the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)” on Monday in New York. Additionally, the report also stated that maritime crime and piracy off the coast of West Africa continued to “pose a threat to peace, security and development” in the region. According to the UN, between January 1 and November 23, there were 82 reported incidents of maritime crime and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. There was also a reported increase in drug trafficking throughout West Africa and the Sahel.
NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN GULF OF GUINEA AND WEST AFRICA
Seven armed pirates, in a speed boat, approached and fired upon underway chemical tanker at 2335 UTC around 93nm West of Bayelsa, Nigeria. The vessel sounded its alarm and all crew mustered in the citadel. The onboard armed security guard returned fire resulting in the pirates aborting the attack and moving away. All crew were reported safe following the incident.
Anchored tanker boarded by an intruder at 0235 UTC at the Onne Port anchorage, Nigeria. Intruder spotted by crew but escaped empty-handed. Vessel and crew safe.
An underway tanker was attacked by pirates at 0035 UTC around 84nm WSW of Brass, Nigeria. A single skiff with seven people armed with guns onboard was reportedly involved in the attack. Pirates and embarked security exchange gunshots before aborting the attack. Tanker and crew were reported safe.
Four armed robbers boarded an anchored container ship via the anchor chain at 0059 UTC at the Pointe Noire Anchorage in the Republic of The Congo. The general alarm was raised, crew mustered in citadel and rocket flares were fired. The robbers then escaped with some of the ship’s stores. The incident was reported to the Pointe Noire Port Control via VHF and is being investigated.
Six Russian sailors were captured by the pirates near Cotonou, Benin. Up to nine armed pirates intercepted and then boarded the container ship MSC Mandy which was drifting in the Gulf of Guinea. The pirates then plundered the vessel before departing with six members of the crew; the captain, senior assistant captain, 3rd mate, boatswain, fitter and cook. There were no reported injuries among the 18 crewmembers left onboard.
Two robbers with plastic hoses boarded an anchored tanker during ship-to-ship (STS) operations at 0320 UTC in the Lagos Anchorage, Nigeria. Duty crew noticed the robbers and raised the alarm resulting in the robbers escaping. The incident was immediately reported to the Nigerian Navy patrol boat which arrived location and carried out a check on the surrounding waters. Nothing reported stolen.
Around 4-5 robbers in a small skiff came alongside an anchored product tanker and threw two ropes attached with hooks onto the tanker’s railing at 0110 UTC in Lagos Secure Anchorage Area (SAA), Nigeria. Duty crew on routine rounds heard voices near the bow and noticed the hooks and the skiff. Alarm raised. Non-essential crew members mustered in the citadel. Master requested assistance from the Nigerian Navy patrol boat which immediately responded. Hearing the alarm, the robbers moved away. The patrol boat searched the waters around the tanker.
SOUTH EAST ASIA
Several incidents have occurred in South East Asia in the past month; the majority of which were boardings. However, there were also a number of non-piracy related incidents in the region. Additionally, there have been several announcements by the Chinese and Japanese navies; including the acquisition of the Japanese first fix-wing capable aircraft carriers since the Second World War.
The main non-piracy incidents which occurred in the region were the capsize of the general cargo ship London on 2 January. The incident occurred 80 nm northeast of Pengjia islet; a small island NE of northernmost Taiwan tip. According to latest evening updates, 5 crew were rescued, mainly by fishing vessels, 10 crew remain in distress awaiting rescue. Status and condition of the ship unknown.
Additionally, the product tanker Namse Bangdzod was declared missing on 7 January by Indonesian Maritime Authorities. The vessel has been out of contact since 28 December. The tanker has a complement of 11 crew and is loaded with palm oil. According to officials, a large-scale search across Java sea didn’t yield any results but the search continues., The vessel’s AIS re-emerged on Marinetraffic.com on 6 January; though the track is rather hectic and confused.
Most recently, on 8 January, one person was killed and 21 sailors required rescuing after an oil and chemical tanker caught fire near Lamma Island off Hong Kong. There are reports of several missing crewmembers; however, no official numbers have been released. The exact cause of the incident remains unknown at this time with numerous explosions being heard on the vessel prior to and during the fire. Police marine vessels, three fire boats and a helicopter were dispatched to the area to take part in the rescue operation. The vessel Aulac Fortune has sustained damage due to the fire and is listing heavily to starboard.
To the north, a Beijing official has made a number of strong statements regarding China’s growing confidence in, and perceived dominance of, the South China Sea region. These statements are not the first to come out of Beijing and include the threat of inflicting mass casualties on the US Navy. During the 20 December speech to the 2018 Military Industry List summit, China’s Rear Adm. Luo Yuan, the deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences, stated the key for Chinese domination in those hotly contested waters could lie in the sinking of two US aircraft carriers. The admiral stated that; “what the United States fears the most is taking casualties,” before adding that such an attack on two of the US Navy’s floating airbases would claim upwards of 10,000 lives. Luo then went on to call America’s military, money, talent, the voting system and fear of adversaries the “five US weaknesses that can be easily exploited”.
The Chinese admiral’s rhetoric comes as there are growing fears in some areas of Washington that air-independent propulsion (AIP) system submarines may be able to sink a US carrier. AIP submarines are considered one of the most crucial improvements in submarine technology following the Second World War and have changed the way non-nuclear submarines operate. While not allowing them to operate indefinitely underwater like their nuclear-powered counterparts, the AIP system does give the submarines a significantly longer submerged operational time when compared to traditional diesel-electric. AIP submarines are also extremely quiet; considered possibly quieter than nuclear submarines. This makes them capable of stalking and sinking their “prey” even in a challenging anti-submarine warfare environment; such as the ASW defence circle that protects a US carrier group.
Linked to this, Chinese submarine technology has grown significantly over the last three decades. The Type 039A or Yuan-class submarine has a top speed of twenty knots submerged and are the first Chinese submarines to use the AIP system, reportedly the Sterling system. The class is equipped with six 533-millimetre standard diameter torpedo tubes capable of launching torpedoes, Klub anti-ship missiles, C-802 anti-ship missiles and/or sea mines. These submarines are therefore being considered a significant threat to US Navy carrier groups.
Across the East China Sea in Japan, in its 10-year Defence Program Guidelines, approved 18 December, Tokyo has stated that it would purchase 42 carrier capable F-35Bs. The aircraft will be available for deployment aboard two flat-top ships, the JS Izumo and JS Kaga, which are the largest ships in the Japanese fleet; being more than 800 feet long and displacing 27,000 tons. The vessels are currently used as amphibious assault ships and anti-submarine warfare helicopter carriers but are being refitted for use as fixed-wing aircraft carriers. The move has been regarded as contentious as the two vessels will be the first aircraft carriers that the Japanese navy has possessed since the Second World War.
Despite the move, it is unclear whether Japan really needs the aircraft carrier capability at the expense of its very effective anti-submarine carriers. The country’s main threat in the region and worldwide are North Korea, China and to an extent Russia; all of which are within short-to-medium range of Japan and its mainland airbases. Currently, the main threats from these countries’ navies are highly effective submarines. Losing two vessels considered very effective at combating submarines may be a tactical miscalculation by Tokyo.
Britain’s HMS Montrose is currently crossing the Pacific Ocean en-route to New Zealand. The anti-submarine frigate, which made a port visit to Chile in mid-December and is ultimately bound for Bahrain, has been the fourth British warship to reach the Pacific Rim since January last year. The UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated that the Royal Navy will keep an “unbroken presence” in the Indo-Pacific into 2019 and beyond. The British government says such a deployment is aimed at protecting the rules-based global order, including freedom of navigation, seen as the underpinning of Britain’s “security and prosperity as an island trading nation.”
Finally, the Abu Sayyaf Group has reportedly freed the son of Zambo Norte mayor. The son was kidnapped in September 2018 and was freed in Patikul, Sulu and handed over to his brother Justin, who reportedly sought assistance from local leaders to fetch the victim in Barangay Anuling.
NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
A Malaysian-flagged fishing vessel was boarded by armed robbers at around 1600 local time east of Tawau, Sabah, Malaysia. Only two masked robbers boarded the vessel. The crew of the vessel stated that the robbers spoke in an Indonesian language. Robbers stole one of the two engines and crew’s personnel belongings (including all vessel documentation) before escaping in the direction of Sungai Nyamuk, Indonesia. No injuries to crew reported. The authorities are investigating the incident.
During routine rounds, duty crew onboard an anchored bulk carrier noticed robbers armed with knives and bamboo stick on the forward deck at 2310 UTC at Cam Pha Anchorage, Vietnam. The duty officer was notified, the alarm raised and crew mustered. Seeing the crew alertness, the robbers escaped in a wooden boat. Upon investigation, ship’s stores were reported stolen. Local agents and authorities were informed.
Duty watchman onboard an anchored container vessel at Tanjung Priok Anchorage in Indonesia noticed three robbers on the aft deck at 1916 UTC. The alarm was raised with an announcement on PA system and all crew mustered on the bridge. Master contacted the pilot station and agents. Authorities boarded the vessel to render assistance and to investigate.
The Americas only saw one significant incident in the past month; a boarding at Puerto Jose Anchorage, Venezuela. However, the situation in Venezuela continues to result in instability in the region with reports of fishermen being attacks in Trinidad becoming more regular. Otherwise, Iran’s Navy will conduct a “visit” to Venezuela as part of a cruise into the western Atlantic.
Tehran is sending the flotilla to the western Atlantic Ocean in the spring according to an official news agency. The cruise will likely take around five months and will feature Iran’s newest domestically-built destroyer, the Sahand. The flotilla deployment is intended to demonstrate Iran’s ability to counterweight the ongoing routine of US warships that sail into the Persian Gulf. No previous Iranian cruises to the Western Atlantic have occurred but Tehran’s vessels have begun extending their reach to the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy missions.
Elsewhere, Venezuela’s economic collapse is having a significantly negative impact on the surrounding countries. Thousands of refugees have fled to Colombia and there are also reports that piracy is now on the rise in the region. Fishermen from Trinidad have reported several attacks when out at sea in proximity to Venezuela. The economic downturn in Venezuela has given the fishermen’s Venezuelan counterparts little choice but to turn to banditry.
Worryingly, the surge in ocean banditry in the region has parallels with the Somali piracy crisis of over a decade ago. In Somalia, piracy began after a large number of fisherman lost their livelihoods after foreign trawlers began illegally fishing on the Somali seaboard and ships began dumping industrial waste off the Somali coast, killing marine life. Jobless fishermen responded by robbing passing ships. Security experts fear it shows that like Somalia, Venezuela is now becoming a failed state (or is a failed state depending on the view) with increasing loss of livelihood opportunities for poor communities, and as such attacks could escalate. Elsewhere in Venezuela, there are reports of ship stores being robbed. Next, it is feared that the pirates will grow in confidence and could begin to target merchant vessels in the area; especially oil vessels coming from Trinidad, ships using the Panama Canal or potentially target the tourist cruise ships or tourist-heavy islands of the southern Caribbean.
The collapse of the Venezuelan economy has also had a negative effect on maritime industries in the region. Numerous oil and fuel filling pipes are reported to be in a bad condition while a number of vessels are also falling into a state of disrepair. The ferry Maria Rosario was reported partially submerged on 31 December alongside a pier in Puerto La Cruz due to a lack of maintenance. This was the third such ferry to be in such a state in the port.
Additionally, Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to block Exxon Mobil Corp. from exploring for oil in contested waters off neighbouring Guyana. The vow came after the Venezuelan navy confronted two Exxon vessels last month prompting the oil company to move the vessels away from the disputed region. Venezuela claims the incident occurred in its territorial waters and is the latest incident in a century-old border dispute. Venezuela claims roughly two-thirds of Guyana and the development of a deepwater oil well “Starbroek Block” has brought the dispute back into focus. Exxon has a bad relationship with Venezuela after its previous president, Hugo Chavez, nationalized Exxon’s assets in the country.
Four robbers were sighted on the forecastle deck of an anchored crude oil tanker at 0810 UTC in Puerto Jose Anchorage, Venezuela. At daybreak crew searched the entire tanker but found nothing stolen. The incident was reported to Puerto Jose VTS through agent resulting in a patrol boat carrying out a check of the surrounding waters.
EUROPE, EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN & BLACK SEA
Illegal immigration issues have again become the centre of media attention over the Christmas period after a number of news channels reported an alleged “large number of migrants” attempted to cross the English Channel. The incident was highly publicized by the media and prompted the British Home Secretary to recall two patrol vessels and draft in Royal Navy support. Elsewhere, Russia has continued making provocative remarks as tensions continue in the Black Sea. These include Moscow stating that it will deploy its new Avangard hypersonic missile as soon as possible.
The English Channel migrant crossings have come as a French official stated that efforts to stem migrants coming across the Channel on small boats cannot be sustained. The statement by a French mayor came after the French police announced that they have stopped 14 people in the Port of Boulogne. The migrants were attempting to cross in a stolen fishing trawler. It is understood that migrants are using launch spots along a 30-mile stretch of coastline between Boulogne and Dunkirk. The coastal stretched has numerous locations that are ideal to quickly put to sea in a small boat without being seen. The French authorities reportedly do not have enough resources to adequately police and monitor the entire coastline.
On a similar topic, Malta rescued 249 migrants in 24 hours with the country’s armed forces saving 180 migrants in two rescue operations in the Mediterranean on Monday 31 December, less than 24 hours after picking up another group of 69. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 111,558 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2018 (not including 16-31 December). This year is the fifth straight year during which the arrival of irregular migrants and refugees has topped the 100,000 threshold – although 2018’s total is lower compared to those recorded at this time in 2017 (167,916) and 2016 (358,018).
Elsewhere, the general cargo ship Louise Auerbach lost control and struck an embankment at Suchsdorf in the Kiel Canal, at around 12:00 local time on 6 January. The incident occurred shortly after leaving Holtenau locks. As a result of the incident, the Canal was blocked to all traffic. However, by around 13:30 tugs managed to release the vessel. The vessel was then taken to Projensdorf, where according to AIS, the ship was moored at 14:30.
NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN EUROPE
There have been no notable piracy, armed robbery or otherwise maritime incidents in Europe in the past month.
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.
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