Weekly Maritime Security Report 02 May 2017
East Africa and the Indian Ocean
Saudi Arabia: Security forces foil boat attack against fuel distribution terminal in Jazan
Saudi Arabia confirmed that Yemen-based Houthi rebel forces tried to attack an Aramco fuel distribution terminal in the Jazan province with a remotely controlled boat filled with explosives. The state news agency said that the boat was destroyed by Saudi naval forces before it hit its target. Houthi rebels hit a Saudi warship in a similar attack in January, killing two crew members and injuring three other people.
PGI Analysis: The incident marks a significant development in the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi militants at sea, as this is the second confirmed time that Houthis have used a remote-controlled boat carrying explosives to attack a Saudi target, although in this instance the rebels selected an economic target, rather than a military one. The first report of a remote-controlled vessel being used by Houthi militants was in January 2017 when the boat struck a Saudi frigate, although in October 2016 a boat packed with explosives detonated as it approached an LNG tanker in what was reportedly a failed suicide attack. The 25 April foiled attack also demonstrates Houthis are willing to strike civilian maritime infrastructure outside of Yemen, apparently in order to damage economic interests, raising the prospect of future attacks against civilian maritime targets in the region.
PGI increased Yemen's maritime threat rating in the April 2017 Quarterly Report. To request information on our Quarterly Report service, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yemen: Merchant vessel fires warning shots at skiffs in Gulf of Aden
A merchant vessel reported that it was approached by five skiffs 57 nm southwest of Aden in the Gulf of Aden at 1600 hrs local time. The embarked armed security team was forced to fire warning shots when four of the skiffs approached to port at 25 knots and the other skiff approached the starboard side and came within 0.2 nm of the vessel. All skiffs turned away when shots were fired and the vessel and crew were reported safe.
PGI Analysis: The incident is the latest suspicious approach following an uptick in reports of attempted attacks, suspicious approaches and hijackings in the High Risk Area (HRA) since mid-March 2017. The incidents have taken place in the Gulf of Aden, the Bab el Mandeb and off the coast of Somalia's Puntland and Galmudug states. Several of the approaches have resulted in embarked armed security teams firing warning shots at vessels in order to deter attacks, underscoring the continued threat to ships transiting the HRA and the need for vigilance in implementing counter-piracy measures.
For further analysis of piracy off Somalia, read PGI's insight following the Aris 13 hijacking.
Nigeria: Pirates attempt to board vessel 58 nm off Brass
Assailants on board four boats approached and attempted to board a merchant vessel using hooks 58 nm southeast of Brass at 0740 hrs local time, but were unsuccessful in their attempt. The attackers fired shots during the attack, although the vessel was reported to be safe. Hijack for ransom attacks are common at sea off Nigeria's coast.
Nigeria: Nigerian Navy foil hijacking 47 nm southeast of Brass
A merchant vessel reported that it was boarded and hijacked 47 nm southeast of Brass at 0855 hrs local time, although the Nigerian Navy was able to rescue the vessel and escorted it to Onne, Nigeria. Hijackings targeting commercial vessels are frequently reported in waters south of Nigeria.
Nigeria: Gunmen attack merchant vessel near Brass
A merchant vessel was reportedly attacked and fired upon by unidentified assailants at 0514 hrs local time. The incident took place 40 nm southeast of Brass in Nigeria's Bayelsa State. Further details were not immediately available. Incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea have increased in recent months.
PGI Analysis: Given the timings and locations of the attacks and approaches, it is likely they were conducted by the same group, who appear to be roaming the waters off Brass in a bid to find a vessel vulnerable to attack. In this case, it appears the group was unsuccessful in kidnapping crew although further incidents may have gone unreported. Pirates operating off Nigeria are highly persistent and will often only abandon an approach if one of their group is injured or killed in an exchange of fire.
Select Maritime News
China: Beijing allows North Korean coal ships to dock in violation of ban
China has allowed North Korea coal-laden ships to dock at its Shanghai port, in a violation of international sanctions banning the acceptance of North Korean coal shipments. Beijing has said it is allowing the ships to dock out of "humanitarian concern" for the crew, who in some cases have been waiting to enter Chinese ports since February. China said the coal cargo will not go through customs and thereby not be imported. At least six ships have been recorded as berthed in Shanghai in April, while many other ships have returned to North Korea since the ban was announced in late February. The ban came amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests.
Gabon: Customs strike blocks cargo movement from port of Libreville
Freight forwarders have said the ongoing strike by customs and tax workers has halted cargo movements from Libreville port to airports as it is impossible for them to make tax payments. The deputy secretary general of the National Union of Customs Officers behind the strike said only baby food, diplomatic parcels and French army shipments are able to leave the port between 0700 hrs and 1000 hrs local time. It is currently unknown when the strike, which is calling for reintegration into the civil service and better conditions, will end.
Indonesia: Authorities foil Malaysian smuggling of Somali refugees at Sumatra
The Indonesian Navy foiled an attempt by Malaysian criminals to smuggle eight Somali refugees into North Sumatra's Bagan Asahan area. The Navy patrol captured an unnamed vessel at 0130 hrs local time, after which the crew jumped into the mangrove forest nearby carrying the passports of the eight Somali nationals who had allegedly come from Malaysia. The incident comes weeks after the Meruake Immigration Office foiled the smuggling of five Senegalese nationals at Papua province's Sota area on 16 April. Authorities have said Indonesia is vulnerable to the smuggling of refugees because it is located between refugee-receiving countries Malaysia and Australia.
Iran: US warship fires flare at IRGC vessel
A US guided missile destroyer, the USS Mahan, fired a flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) vessel in the latest hostile encounter between naval forces from the two countries in the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The US alleged that the Iranian vessel approached to within 1,000 m of the USS Mahan and that Iranian forces ignored repeated warnings to change course. The IRGC vessel later sailed away. The US has repeatedly complained of unprofessional behaviour by Iranian forces in the heavily-trafficked maritime flashpoint.
Japan: Chinese navy sails through Miyako Strait, conducts drills in Pacific
Chinese naval forces sailed through the Miyako Strait, between the two Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa, and conducted military drills in the Western Pacific, according to state news agency Xinhua. The Chinese military said the drills are aimed at improving emergency response capabilities far out at sea. It is unclear if Japan protested the naval exercise.
Libya: Naval forces capture two vessels suspected of smuggling oil
Libyan naval forces said the Ukraine-flagged tanker Routa and a vessel with an unspecified African country's flag named Stark were captured in the Sidi Said area west of Tripoli, following gun battles that lasted for more than three hours. Reports on the casualties or details on what happened to the crew of the vessels or their nationalities were not released. Libyan forces frequently capture vessels smuggling oil and arms off the coast, while migrant smugglers are also active in the country.
Libya: Moscow confirms release of five sailors from captured vessel
The Russian deputy foreign minister said that most of the Russian crew of a cargo vessel, the MV Merle, seized off Zawiya on 5 March had been released. Five of the seven-member crew were released by Misrata-led forces, though the vessel remained in detention. It was not immediately clear why Misrata-led forces released only five of the sailors. Libyan officials said that the vessel, which was allegedly sailing to Zuwara Port, was part of an illicit scrap metal network with links to Turkey.
Panama: MM&P; says insufficient resources impeding Panama Canal transit growth
The USD 9.4 bn investment in a third lock has not led to the expected increase in ship traffic through the Panama Canal, according to the International Organisation of Masters, Mates and Pilots (MM&P;). The investment made by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) was expected to double the tonnage capacity of the canal, but a lack of staff and infrastructure has meant that only about half of the projected growth has materialised, an MM&P; spokesperson said, adding if the trend persists, it will have adverse economic consequences for both Panama and the US. The ACP has refuted the allegations, saying that the canal's performance has exceeded expectations since its inauguration.
Philippines: Duterte open to military drills with China in high-threat Sulu Sea
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is open to holding joint military drills with the Chinese Navy in the Sulu Sea, which is a high-threat zone for piracy following a surge in maritime kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) since early 2016. Duterte's comments came one week after the start of joint emergency exercises between the US and the Philippines, which have been scaled back after Duterte rejected full-scale war games with the US forces. Duterte also visited three Chinese warships which docked at Davao City as part of a "confidence-building" exercise between Beijing and Manila.
Philippines: Duterte welcomes Chinese warships at Davao City
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited Chinese warships docked at his home town in Davao City, Mindanao island, as part of the ships' three-day visit as a sign of goodwill between Beijing and Manila. Duterte has sought to improve economic and diplomatic relations with China, despite a long-running regional dispute over China's claims to the South China sea.
Philippines: Duterte says he is helpless in South China Sea dispute
President Rodrigo Duterte has said he is "helpless" against China in the dispute over islands in the South China Sea. He said there is no point protesting China's building of artificial islands and construction of military infrastructure in the Spratlys, ahead of an address to the ASEAN summit in Manila. Duterte came to power vowing to both protect the Philippines' territorial interests and improve relations with China, yet he has failed to stop Beijing from pursuing its activities, and has also alienated the US forces which had supported Manila's claims.
Somalia: Authorities sentence pirate to life in jail over USS Ashland attack
The US Justice Department announced that Mohamed Farah was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the attack on the USS Ashland off the coast of Djibouti in April 2010. During the attack, pirates fired at the ship from their skiff, prompting forces to return fire, setting the pirates' skiff on fire before authorities collected the suspects. The sentence comes amid an uptick in pirate activity off Somalia and Yemen since the hijacking of the Aris 13 bunkering tanker on 13 March.
Trinidad &; Tobago: Petrotrin oil spill reaches Venezuelan coast
Trinidad's Ministry of Energy and Industries reported an oil spill at state oil company Petrotrin on 23 April had reached the coast of Venezuela near Guiria. Following the spill, authorities activated the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan to a Tier 2 level, allowing the maximum use of country resources to tackle the spill. Some 300 barrels of crude leaked into the Gulf of Paria from Petrotrin's Pointe-a-Pierre refinery.
Turkey: Russian warship collides with freighter in the Black Sea
A Russian military reconnaissance ship has collided with a Togo-flagged freight vessel 40 km north-west of the Bosphorus strait. The Russian defence ministry said their vessel, the Liman, has a hole in its hull as a result of the collision, but that no crew members were hurt. The status of the Togo-flagged vessel was unclear. Coastguard and emergency teams have reportedly been dispatched to the crash site. Media reports note that fog and low visibility contributed to the accident.
United Arab Emirates: Emirati soldier dies in confrontation with Iranian vessel
The UAE's official state media outlet WAM confirmed that an Emirati soldier had died "while carrying out a mission inside the country." The statement provided no further details on the circumstances of the soldier's death, although multiple regional media outlets claimed that the soldier was killed while pursuing an Iranian boat inside UAE territorial waters. The UAE and Iran contest sovereignty of several islands in the Persian/Arabian Gulf, and alleged aggressive behaviour by Iranian naval forces in the region has raised tensions with the US and other powers.
Yemen: Government calls for UN oversight of Hodeidah
Yemen's recognised government, which is based in Aden, called on the UN to monitor the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah on the Red Sea. Prime Minister Ahmad Obeid Bin Dagher proposed that the UN supervise the port to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Houthi forces and to prevent a planned attack on the port by pro-government forces. Fears of a major assault on Hodeidah have provoked repeated warnings from the UN and other observers that an attack would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis facing Yemen. On 26 April, Saudi-led coalition forces dropped leaflets on Hodeidah calling on residents to join anti-Houthi resistance forces.