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 March looks at the following areas:
- High Risk Area (Indian Ocean)
- Gulf of Guinea & West Coast of Africa
- South East Asia
Indian Ocean and High Risk Area
The Indian Ocean has enjoyed a quiet month, the main story being the change in the High Risk Area that is set to be enforced from 1 May. The main news away from the seas is that Somali troops have withdrawn from villages on the outskirts of Mogadishu; an event that has the potential to escalate the unrest in both Somalia and in the waters off its coast. Finally, there have been a few changes to fleet deployments in the region, with China stationing one of its new state-of-the-art warships to its anti-piracy mission in the region.
As mentioned in our Maritime snapshot, in late February and early March, numerous Somali troops have withdrawn from their posts in Mahadaay, Jowar and other villages over unpaid salaries and lack of rations. These withdrawals have allowed Al Shabaab militants to capture the vacated bases and villages; causing them to move within a closer range of the capital. These advances have been coupled with a number of attacks on the capital and an alleged foiling of a “major terrorist attack” by Somali Special Forces.
Should the withdrawals continue, the outskirt areas of Mogadishu may come into range of mortar fire and concentrated Al Shabaab strikes. This includes the airport and the UN compound. Additionally, these gains by militants have been coupled with the African Union’s UN mission withdrawing of, or considering withdrawing, troops from the country, leaving the Somali military as the sole line of defence in some areas. Should the lack of pay and rations continue; then Al Shabaab attacks may target the depleted African Union troops; testing the strength of defences in the Mogadishu area. If Mogadishu comes under siege or attack, then the maritime threat in the region would rise significantly with Al Shabaab looking to impact international trade and, in turns, the fishermen, whose livelihoods have been destroyed, turning to piracy.
Elsewhere, according to the UAE, seven Emirati citizens and two Egyptians who had been held in Iran since the end of January have now been freed. In a statement to local media sources, the Emirati Foreign Ministry said the nine were detained whilst on a fishing trip. The formerly detained men were released into the care of the UAE Coast Guard to complete their journey back to the UAE. Iranian media confirmed the story but did not elaborate on the case.
Also reported in our Maritime snapshot, the Round Table of the international shipping associations, as well as the OCIMF, who represent the global shipping and oil industry have announced that the geographic boundaries of the ‘High Risk Area’ (HRA) for piracy in the Indian Ocean will be reduced starting from 1 May. The change will be coupled with new advice issued to merchant ship operators.
The reduction of the HRA directly reflects the ongoing success in the containment of the threat from pirate attacks in the region. Despite the reduction, the shipping associations have urged that vigilance and adherence to the 5th edition of the best management practice to deter piracy (BMP5) remains vital to the long-term safety in the region. The threat of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, as well as terrorist inspired piracy in the Gulf of Aden, remain a relevant maritime risk.
According to officials, the reduction in the HRA has been made through considerations of the pirate intent, the capability of the navies operating in the region and, crucially, the assessments of the merchant shipping industry. Indeed, the decision was only made after extensive consultations with the military forces in the region, including the Combined Maritime Forces, EUNAVFOR and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which continue to provide vital advice and protection to shipping.
This is the second reduction, after the one establishing the current limits in 2015, and does not change the advice for vessels travelling through the Gulf of Aden or to/from the Red Sea as well as the Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA). Additionally, Ships entering the VRA will still be encouraged to register with the Maritime Security Centre for the Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and report to the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO). Shipping companies should also still maintain full compliance with BMP5. The industry associations reserve the right to further adjust the HRA if the situation warrants it.
Elsewhere, the Australian flagship, HMAS Canberra, and HMAS Newcastle arrived in Colombo on 23 March to take part in joint defence engagements with Sri Lanka as part of the Indo Pacific Endeavour 2019. The vessel’s arrival coincided with the arrest of nine Iranians and the seizure of an Iranian vessel that was reportedly transporting heroin into Colombo harbour.
State-run media have stated that China has deployed its latest guided missile destroyer and frigate in the fleet of naval ships participating in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Somalian coast in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean on 4 April. China’s 32nd convoy fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters set sail from a military port in Zhoushan, East China’s Zhejiang Province on Thursday, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy official announced. The naval fleet includes the guided-missile destroyer Xi’an, the missile frigate Anyang and the Gaoyanghu, a comprehensive supply ship.
The Xi’an is one of the country’s new generation of self-developed Type-052C guided missile destroyers that entered into service in February 2015; the ship possesses over-the-horizon strike capability at sea. Anyang, a frigate, is also domestically developed, and entered into service in April 2018 and is capable of attacking surface ships and submarines alone or in conjunction with other naval forces. It also has strong long-range alert and air defence capabilities.
China, which is ramping up its naval and air power by reducing the size of the army to expand its global influence, is actively taking part in the anti-piracy operations in the Somali coast, where it had also built its first overseas logistics base in Djibouti. The ships are part of China’s new generation of main combat vessels and represent the PLA Navy’s increased capability to project power. Besides advanced naval ships, China has been deploying its submarines in anti-piracy operations to test their endurance and operational capability, raising concerns in India as they sail through the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
|NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN HIGH RISK AREA AND EAST AFRICA
There have been no notable reported piracy, armed robbery or other maritime incidents in the High Risk Zone in the past month. This does not mean that no incidents have occurred; as some incidents are not reported.
Gulf of Guinea
The Gulf of Guinea continues to see a wide range of piracy, from vessel attacks and kidnappings to robberies. The maritime insecurity in the region is prompting Nigeria and other countries in the region to call for more international cooperation. However, it is unsure whether concrete plans have been put in place at this time. The severe piracy environment means that substantial precautions/preparations should be put in place prior to any travel to the region.
The Nigerian Minister of Defence has called for transnational efforts towards fighting maritime “crimes” in the Gulf of Guinea. The minister stated that maritime illegalities had become transnational and evolved beyond the scope and capability of one country to combat. Additionally, the Minister of the Navy stated that the maritime illegalities constitute serious challenges to the development of all the Gulf of Guinea states and noted that huge capability gap had emerged in the past decades among Gulf of Guinea navies and coast guards, in the discharge of their roles.
These calls for increased international cooperation have been echoed by other officials, who lament that the Nigerian Navy only receives “lukewarm” support from regional states in combating piracy in the region. One example of this is Captain Bayo Oyekan, who told Nigerian media that poor attitude of other agencies that were supposed to support the Navy in checking piracy had made the number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea rise. The captain still commended the efforts of the Nigerian Navy, as it inaugurated four ships and to helicopters that have been bought specifically to fight piracy.
According to him, the international shipping community and other bodies like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are encouraging Abuja to take the lead in controlling crime in the Gulf of Guinea where Nigeria and other maritime countries in the sub-region share boundaries on the waters. As such, he has called for collaboration in logistics support from agencies like the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, the Nigeria Shippers Council and even the Nigeria Ports Authority to help support the country’s navy.
On 17 March, Troops of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta – Operation Delta Safe (OPDS) – have seized a tugboat, the Aya Oba Olori II, and a barge, Rampage 13, loaded with a total of 200,000 litres of stolen crude. A local surveillance group, Labrador Security, has reportedly provided the intelligence and coordinated the troops of the joint task force. In addition to the operation, the Nigerian Navy reported that it had seized a vessel, MT Arowolo, for suspicious movements around Onne Anchorage; the vessel had been navigating the area with two occupants (who were arrested) and had its Automatic Identification Signaller AIS switched off.
Angola’s Operation Transparency has, since 25 March, been expanded to include Angola’s maritime coast to prevent and combat illegal fishing, smuggling and human trafficking. Over 50 patrol boats and five helicopters equipped with technology for efficient and timely neutralization of any criminal activity happening in the country’s littoral zone are set to take part. The operation has already been implemented on land to tackle illegal diamond mining and immigration.
||NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN GULF OF GUINEA AND WEST AFRICA
||An underway Greek-flagged tanker MV was attacked around 110nm South of Lagos, Nigeria. The vessel and crew were later reported safe.
||Pirates reportedly attacked a vessel 30nm south of Lome, Togo. The Malta-flagged vessel was later reported to be en-route to Lome under escort. Extreme caution was, and still is, being advised in the area. At least three crewmembers have allegedly been kidnapped. The ship sustained damage during the attack and hijack. It is understood that the remaining crew onboard are not injured.
||An underway tanker was approached by two skiffs with four people on board 35nm SSE of Brass, Nigeria. One skiff closed to within 2 cables. The Vessel conducted evasive manoeuvres resulting in skiffs moving away.
||Underway OSV was attacked by two speedboats around 21nm SSE of Brass, Nigeria. The speedboats, both carrying six armed people on board, were fired upon by escorting security vessel. Unconfirmed reports state several pirates and one security personnel killed.
||A passenger boat was attacked by seven robbers armed with AK-47, which boarded the vessel, robbing the passengers and crew members before escaping at approximately around 8nm SSE of Kwa Ibo coast, Nigeria. The vessel safely berthed at Shoreline Jetty, Calabar.
||Two robbers managed to board an anchored product tanker and started stealing oil using a hosepipe in Lagos Secure Anchorage, Nigeria. Duty watch keeper noticed the hose and immediately informed the vessel’s Master. The incident was reported to a Navy patrol boat in the vicinity. Seeing the alerted crew, the robbers escaped. The crew and vessel were reported safe. Additionally, the Navy patrol boat managed to intercept the boat and apprehend the robbers.
||In the STS Area, Lagos, Nigeria a Singapore-flagged product tanker was carrying out a ship-to-ship operation while anchored when the duty watchkeeper saw two robbers near the vessel cargo tank. The robbers escaped into a waiting boat when their presence was discovered.
||A vessel was attacked in Douala Anchorage with initial reports suggesting that 4 crew members have been kidnapped from the vessel, before escaping.
South East Asia
Asia has enjoyed a quiet month with continued operations against Abu Sayyaf and a number of minor incidents across the region being the main highlight. One key story involves a merchant vessel striking a bridge in Busan after the captain was intoxicated at the helm. Otherwise, there continues to be widespread talk about illegal fishing in Indonesia by Vietnamese and Malaysian fishermen.
An arrest warrant was issued for the captain of the MV Seagrand that struck a bridge in Busan, South Korea, on 28 February. Following the incident, the Korean Coast Guard conducted testing on the Captain and found that he had a blood alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit. According to police sources, the captain claimed he had only started drinking after the accident had occurred, not before. However, not only did his story have numerous irregularities, onboard footage showed that not only was the captain drunk, the vessel had also struck three yachts during the whole incident.
Also, in South Korea, the Coast Guard said on 16 March that it has seized a Chinese fishing boat for not complying with an order to stop in waters near Baengnyeong, South Korea’s northernmost island. Then on 20 March, two sailors were killed and another injured after a fire broke out on an oil tanker off the southern coast of the country. The 494-ton ship caught fire at about 5:40 a.m. in the waters about 5 kilometres off Odong islet in South Jeolla Province, some 322 kilometres south of Seoul, according to the Coast Guard.
In the vicinity of Lamma Island, Hong Kong, the Chinese Tanker Ship, Tian Yi 5, collided with a fishing vessel; with the latter sinking and forcing the crew to jump overboard. Following the incident, only two of the fishing crew were reportedly have been located, despite a large search and rescue operation.
The Indonesian government has been urged to step up maritime security after the Indonesian fisheries watchdog, Destructive Fishing Watch (DFW) stated that illegal fishing committed by foreign boats is rampant in the country; despite efforts to combat the crime. The Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry (KKP) has seized 16 foreign boats illegally fishing in Indonesian waters so far this year. This prompted calls for Jakarta to review the budget for both the KKP and the Indonesian navy to conduct enhanced fishing monitoring operations.
The rampant illegal fishing is probably being triggered by declining fishing stocks in neighbouring countries; an issue that locals do not want to see repeated in Indonesian waters. Nine of the 16 boats seized were Vietnamese while the rest were reportedly Malaysian. Additionally, based on 2014-2018 data, Vietnam conducted the most illegal fishing in Indonesia with a total of 276 vessels seized.
Philippine Marines reportedly killed three Abu Sayyaf militants in a shootout on Simisa Island in Banguigui on 24 March. According to media sources, the Marines suffered no casualties in the encounter and the troops are continuing to pursue the militants in the region. During the fighting, the Marines also managed to seize a speedboat that allegedly belonged to the group. The vessel is believed to have been both a tool for the group to attack nearby shipping boats but also their only mean to escape.
||NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
||An Ammonia gas leak has killed five Chinese crewmembers in a cargo hold of a reefer that was berthed at a port in north-eastern China. Further details have not been given at this time.
||Whilst underway, a Malaysia-flagged tugboat and barge crew spotted 11 robbers with two small crafts boarding its barge in the Straits of Malacca & Singapore. Tugboat and barge were carrying scrap iron, bound for Penang, Malaysia. The master reported that the 11 robbers successfully escaped in small crafts with stolen scrap iron. There was no confrontation with the crew.
||Robbers boarded an anchored Marshall Islands-flagged product tanker through the anchor chain by breaking the padlock of the anchor chain pipe securing arrangement in Batangas Anchorage Alpha, Philippines. The duty A/B sighted the robber and informed the OOW. The general alarm was raised, and the crew mustered. The crew then went to the forecastle to investigate and the robber jumped overboard.
The Americas has seen a more active month compared to February, with numerous incidents occurring in the region; mainly involving anchored vessels. This is coupled with the ongoing unrest in Venezuela that continues to threaten the stability of the region. There have also been a number of operational incidents and two Trinidadian fishermen were reported to have been captured by Venezuelan pirates/criminals.
On 3 March, Argentine forces opened fire on a Chinese fishing trawler that was within Argentina’s exclusive economic zone. The incident occurred after the Argentine Naval Prefecture (PNA) vessel, Mantilla, spotted the Chinese fishing trawler Hua Xiang 801 with its gear deployed. The Chinese vessel, upon realisation that it had been spotted attempted to flee, while the Mantilla gave pursuit. The Hua Ziang then allegedly attempted to collide with the patrol vessel whilst the Argentine crew ordered the trawler to stop for boarding. The Mantilla then fired warning shots with her autocannon ahead of the trawler’s bow and above the waterline. The Chinese vessel reportedly managed to escape to international waters after a three-hour chase. Argentine authorities have asked other governments to help pursue the vessel as it was conducting illegal fishing and also, allegedly, attempted to ram an Argentine patrol vessel.
This is not an isolated incident connected to Chinese violations. In the Indian Ocean, The Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Naval Command have issued an official statement on Chinese fishing vessels who have been violating the terms of the 2011 fisheries agreement between Tehran and Beijing. According to the statement, the Chinese vessels have been “poaching” in the waters of Southern Iran, including in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
On 1 April, several people were injured after a crane collapsed in a dry dock at the Great Bahamas Shipyard. None of the eight injuries are believed to be life-threatening. However, there has been damage to the vessel, Oasis of the Seas, as the crane struck the ship’s superstructure. The incident occurred a few days after the Norwegian heavy lift vessel collided with United States destroyer USS Delbert D. Black on 29 March.
Finally, on 20 March, two Trinidadian fishermen were abducted by Venezuelan pirates. The men eventually, desperate to escape, jumped from the vessel. Unfortunately, only one of the fishermen managed to make it home safely; with the other still missing and presumed dead. The rescued fisherman had spent the night swimming desperately and screaming for help from passing boats. The abductions are the latest in a spate of kidnappings that local Venezuelans conduct in order to extort small ransoms from neighbouring Trinidad.
||NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN AMERICAS
||A vessel was boarded by pirates while anchored at Macapa Anchorage, Brazil. The attempted robbery took place in the early hours of the morning when two pirates armed with bladed weapons boarded the vessel. The robbers were spotted, alarm raised and crew musters. Upon noticing that the crew had mustered, the pirates escaped without stealing anything.
||Four robbers wearing jackets and caps in a small boat approached an anchored vehicle carrier in Callao Anchorage, Peru. Duty crew on routine rounds noticed the robbers attempting to board the ship via the anchor cable. The alarm was raised, ship’s horn sounded, and crew directed flash lights towards the robbers. Seeing the alerted crew, the robbers aborted the attempted boarding and escaped. VTS Tramar and local agents were informed. A patrol boat was dispatched to search the anchorage area.
||Unnoticed, robbers boarded an anchored Liberia-flagged tanker in San Pedro de Macoris Anchorage, Dominican Republic. Robbers stole ship’s properties and escaped. Incident was noticed during routine rounds.
||Three robbers armed with knives boarded an anchored crude oil tanker in Jose Terminal Anchorage, Venezuela. Deck watch on routine rounds spotted the robbers and notified the OOW just before the robbers threatened him with a knife and stole his radio. The alarm was raised, and the crew mustered, resulting in the robbers escaping with their accomplices in a waiting boat. The incident was reported to port authorities.
||Five robbers armed with knives and a pipe wrenches boarded an anchored Liberia-flagged tanker in Jose Terminal Anchorage, Venezuela. They tied up the aft watch keeper and broke into the paint store. The ship’s alarm was raised, and crew mustered. Hearing the alerted crew, the robbers escaped with stolen ship’s stores.
Mediterranean & Black Sea
The majority of incidents in the Europe area were related to vessel movements and the ongoing migrant crisis. The main issue being the reported hijacking of a vessel by migrants; an incident that represents a worrying escalation in the crisis. Additionally, a number of arrests were made by Portuguese police on a cruise vessel relating to drug smuggling whilst there were also two ship groundings in close proximity within 24 hours off the Danish coast. Finally, the Norweigan Cruise Ship, Viking Sky, suffered an engine failure in heavy storm conditions on 23 March.
Libya’s internationally-backed government has deployed its forces in and around the capital, Tripoli, on 4 April. The military deployment was made after renegade army commander, Khalifa Haftar ordered his eastern military forces to advance on the city. This has sparked fears of a major showdown between rival militias. Haftar, who commands the Libya National Army (LNA) from its eastern base of Benghazi, has already taken control of the town of Gharyan, a town 100km south of the capital, in an effective escalation of the years-long power struggle in the country. The UN Security Council has called for an emergency meeting on 5 April to discuss the escalation.
Also related to Libya was a hijacking of an oil tanker by rescued migrants. According to media sources, the tanker was heading to Libya from Turkey when it was asked on 26 March to divert its course to rescue nearly 100 migrants in distress, which it did, before continuing on its course. But when the migrants realized on 27 March that they were headed back to Libya some apparently revolted and “commandeered” the ship. The vessel was eventually brought back under control of the master and the crew by a Maltese special operations team who escorted the vessel into Valetta.
Fears that the incident may be repeated have grown since the European Union introduced a policy aimed at returning rescued migrants back to Libya. On 30 March, a Maltese court charged three teenage migrants from Guinea and Ivory Coast with terrorist activity after the hijacking off the coast of Libya. Under Maltese law, unlawfully seizing control of a ship can be considered a terrorist activity and is punishable by seven to 30 years in prison.
The temporary hijacking has been described as piracy by Italy’s far-right populist interior minister, Matteo Salvini. Some aid groups, however, have called the incident an act of self-defence against the aforementioned EU immigration policies, which has, in the past, resulted in migrants being sent back to Libya, where they can face abuse in camps.
The incident highlights the difficulties faced by merchant vessels that fulfil the legal requirement to rescue anyone in distress at sea, including a growing risk of hijackings by migrants who fear a return to Libya.
The incident occurs as the EU is currently changing the Operations Sophia mission. The operation will no longer consist of vessels, but instead, it will involve an enhanced aerial surveillance capability. There has been criticism of the operation, stating that it has failed in its mission to protect lives at sea and curb migration. The Italian government had also been arguing against the policy of automatically bringing all people rescued at sea to Italian ports. Rome has, in fact, threatened to block the mission entirely if the rules of engagement were not changed and has repeatedly challenged other countries to take more of the burden.
On 2 April, the Libyan Navy and Coast Guard issued a warning to NGOs to not enter the country’s territorial waters or to operate in close proximity to the Libyan coastguards. The warning comes as the illegal migration to Europe “season” approaches with the advent of summer. The announcement also said that the repetitive criminal behaviour of illegal migrants against rescue crews is “very concerning” and shows that the system of search and rescue has “collapsed” in the Mediterranean. As the recent incident gives civilian ships a pretext for refusing to help return migrants to Libya; or worse, not to help those in distress.
Also, on 2 April, police on the Portuguese island of Madeira arrested 12 people as part of an investigation into drug smuggling. The Portuguese authorities were assisted by members of the British National Crime Agency and boarded the MSC Opera; confiscating 18 kilos of cocaine (with a street value of £2 Million).
The Danish bulk carrier, Enny, ran aground in the early morning of 27 March off Soesmarke, Denmark. According to media reports, the ship’s ballast tanks were severely damaged in the incident. After an unsuccessful refloating attempt, a tug managed to drag the vessel back into the fairway before making its way to the port of Nykobing-Falster under its own power. Another vessel also reportedly struck the seafloor the day before a few miles north of the incident site.
On 23 March, the Norwegian cruise vessel MV Viking Sky suffered an engine failure in rough sea on 23 March off the coast of Norway. The cruise ship was reportedly within 100 meters of running aground before the crew were able to restart one of the engines and managed to drop anchor. However, the vessel then began to list dangerously (almost 45 degrees at times) while it was held in position. The crew decided to abandon the ship and the Norwegian coast guard airlifted passengers to safety. The vessel finally managed to make its way to port with some 800 people still onboard.
Elsewhere, the Turkish general cargo ship, Yusuf Celal, sank after running aground in the Marmara Sea, Turkey on 13 March. The incident occurred some 60 meters of Marmara Island, near Topagac. The vessel was dragged towards shore at in heavy seas, suffered extensive hull breaches and sank; with only the superstructure and stern left above the waterline.
Finally, as the United Kingdom will lose control of the EU’s anti-piracy operation, which it has been commanding since it began in December 2008, the European flag will be lowered at Northwood HQ in Hertfordshire. The command of the operation has been handed over to Spain, with French support. The news came just as two of the Royal Navy’s most advanced warships met in the Mediterranean and conducted security patrols jointly.
||NOTABLE MARITIME INCIDENTS IN EUROPE
||Migrants are alleged to have hijacked a Turkish oil Tanker El Hiblu 1 after they were rescued in the Mediterranean; forcing to put the Libya bound vessel on course towards Europe. The vessel was boarded by a Maltese special operations team who returned control to the crew before escorting the tanker to a Maltese port.