Weekly Maritime Security Report 31 Jan 2017
East Africa and the Indian Ocean
Yemen: Saudi coalition report Houthi suicide attack against frigate off Hodeidah
The Saudi-led military coalition announced Houthi militants perpetrated three suicide attacks against one of their frigates 48 km west of the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah, killing two crew members and injuring a further three. The coalition said one Houthi boat hit the frigate's tail causing an explosion and a fire. The Houthi militant group however released a video via their official Saba News Agency purporting to show a guided missile hitting the military vessel, although the footage has not yet been verified.
PGI Analysis: It is unclear which account of the incident is correct, although Houthi militants have not used suicide bombings as a tactic against the Saudi-led coalition so far in the Yemeni conflict, which is a method typically deployed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Houthi rebels previously claimed a missile attack against a UAE logistics ship in the Bab el Mandeb on 5 October 2016, and the US military also reported a number of failed missile attacks targeting their ships following the incident, although Houthis denied any responsibility for the failed attacks.
The attack comes amid a major offensive by Houthi militants to retake the strategic port city of Mocha, which is likely to heighten the risk to commercial shipping in the region. Although Houthi militants predominantly target military vessels, the number of armed and criminal groups that have proliferated in the security vacuum resulting from the conflict has increased the risk to shipping off Yemen significantly, as underscored by a series of attempted attacks and suspicious activity in the Red Sea and Bab el Mandeb since July 2016. The most concerning attack took place on 25 October, when a skiff carrying a large quantity of explosives targeted the Spanish-flagged liquefied natural gas tanker the Galicia Spirit in the Bab el Mandeb, although the skiff detonated before it reached the vessel, leaving the crew on board the Galicia Spirit unharmed.
PGI will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates via the Risk Portal.
Philippines: Gunmen kidnap three fishermen off Tawi Tawi
According to a late report, nine men armed with guns abducted three Indonesian fishermen from a Malaysia-flagged fishing vessel 4 nm east of Bakungan Island, Taganak Islands, Tawi Tawi province at 1730 hrs local time. The perpetrators then headed towards Sulu in their speedboat.
PGI Analysis: The attack bears the hallmarks of the Islamic State-allied Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who have regularly mounted attacks against slow-moving tugs and fishing vessels off the Sulu Archipelago. Since October 2016, ASG have also developed the capabilities to successfully abduct crew from commercial vessels, prompting warnings for vessels to re-route around the north of the island of Borneo to avoid the Sulu and Celebes Seas where the attacks have occurred.
Sierra Leone: Two suspected thieves board vessel off Freetown
Two suspected robbers boarded a container ship at 0345 hrs local time anchored at Freetown Outer Anchorage. The thieves reportedly jumped overboard after the general alarm was triggered before they could steal anything.
PGI Analysis: Organised criminal gangs involved in smuggling, as well as opportunistic thieves, operate in Sierra Leone's ports and intermittently target merchant vessels. The incident was likely perpetrated by petty thieves taking advantage of lowered visibility at night time. Maritime statistics in West Africa are generally unreliable and many similar incidents may have gone unreported.
Select Maritime News
Bangladesh: Perpetrators set fire to vessel off Cox's Bazaar
According to a late report, several small boats approached the vessel El Hadj, which was being towed by the Singapore-flagged tugboat, Jaya Crystal, before boarding the El Hadj and setting fire to the port quarter of the ship at 1000 hrs local time. The master performed zig-zag manoeuvres in an attempt to deter the vessels and called the Chittagong Port Control and Bangladesh Coast Guard, although the assailants started the fire before they arrived. The small vessels left the area when the Bangladesh Navy arrived. Tug crew worked to put out the fire and no crew were injured and nothing was stolen during the incident. The motive behind the attack remains unclear, although fishermen in the region have reported several incidences of kidnap for ransom attacks in the Bay of Bengal in recent years, while commercial vessels typically experience petty thefts while anchored off Bangladesh.
Brazil: Authorities seize 645 kg of cocaine at port in Santa Catarina
Officials confiscated 645 kg of cocaine concealed on a ship due to sail from a port in Santa Catarina to the Belgian port of Amberes. Authorities said they believe the narcotics to be of either Peruvian or Colombian origin. Santa Catarina has become an important transit point for drugs destined for Europe in recent years.
China: Beijing rejects Washington's comments over South China Sea
China's foreign ministry issued a statement affirming its "indisputable sovereignty" over the South China Sea after a White House spokesperson said on 23 January that Washington would "protect its interests" in the disputed region. The comments come after Rex Tillerson, President Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, said the US would block China's access to islands in the sea and prevent any further attempts at island building, days before he was poised to formally take up the post. Chinese state news site the Global Times said any such action would result in "a large-scale war" and "devastating" confrontations.
Colombia: Robbers steal from chemical tanker at Mamonal anchorage
Robbers boarded a chemical tanker anchored at Mamonal inner anchorage and stole ship's properties before escaping unnoticed. The theft was later discovered on routine rounds by crew at 1750 hrs local time. Anchorages in South America have seen a significant uptick in reports of robberies throughout 2016, although the last report of theft at Mamonal was in November 2016.
Cyprus: Total to postpone exploratory drilling over delay in logistics
French oil and gas company Total, which was granted concessions by the Cypriot government to conduct exploratory drills off the shore of the island, announced it will postpone operations set to start in April until an unidentified date in the summer due to past uncertainty over the onshore support base. The uncertainty, which lasted for several months until a contract was struck with the Cyprus based EDT, caused the delay for the drill in Block 11, where Total believes significant natural gas reserves may lie.
East Timor: Dili, Canberra to agree on new maritime boundary deal by September
Authorities in East Timor and Australia have agreed to pursue a September date to negotiate a new maritime boundary deal after the previous agreement, signed in 2006, was scrapped by Australia in early January after diplomatic pressure from both Dili and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. East Timor has long claimed the deal needs to be renegotiated after it was discovered that Australia had bugged offices in Dili to give Canberra an unfair advantage in the talks. East Timor wants the boundary to lie halfway between East Timor and Australia, which would place much of the Sunrise oil and gas field in its jurisdiction.
India: Oil tanker collides with vessel off Kamarajar Port
An Isle of Man-flagged liquefied petroleum gas tanker BW Maple and an Indian chemical tanker Dawn Kanchipuram collided about 2 nm from the Kamarajar Port in the southern state of Tamil Nadu at 0400 hrs local time, although no injuries were reported. The hull of the LPG tanker was ripped, damaging the ship's accommodation as well as the pipelines on the deck, according to the Times of India. Local authorities said that the oil spillage was not significant and traffic at the port was not disrupted. However, by 29 January, oil had spread as far as Marina Beach in Chennai and tens of turtles and fish had washed ashore dead, raising concerns about long-term environmental damage. Authorities said a probe was underway.
India: New Delhi, Paris sign information-sharing pact in Indian Ocean
India and France have signed a White Shipping Agreement to enable information sharing on maritime traffic and maritime domain awareness in the Indian Ocean Region, the Economic Times newspaper reported. The White Shipping Agreement will be implemented over the next few months and will enable both navies to coordinate their roles in stabilising the Indo-Pacific region, confidential sources told the newspaper. India has been entering into strategic maritime partnerships amid China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean Region.
Libya: Authorities investigate corruption in oil sector
Libya's UN-backed unity government launched a wide-ranging investigation into corruption in the oil sector, including smuggling of petroleum products that had cost the country an estimated USD 353 mn in losses since 2011. Authorities imposed travel bans against four executives from Brega Petroleum and warrants were also issued for several ministers suspected of taking part in corruption. The smuggling of subsidised fuel from Libya to Europe by sea is a serious problem, according to local officials.
Oman: Armoury service provider to halt service to companies in February
Sovereign Global Services, the floating armoury service provider, said that it would cease to provide the service to private maritime security companies after mid-February. The reason for the decision was not immediately clear. The move is expected to impact the operation of private armed security personnel in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Oman.
Panama: Canal delays continue to affect shipping
A Panama Canal Authority manager said that delays at the Canal continued with a waiting time of around six days for non-booked Panamax-class vessels. The official said that transiting slots for Neopanamax vessels for the coming 14 days are nearly entirely booked up and regular vessels are facing delays of three days. Delays on the canal have improved from 17 January when all vessels were subject to a seven-day wait.
Russia: Aircraft carrier's passage through the Channel causes row with London
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov's passage through the English Channel has caused a row between Moscow and London as the British jet fighters reportedly "escorted" the aircraft carrier. A Russian spokesperson called the British monitoring of the passage a "show" intended to distract others from the shortcomings of the British navy, while the British defence minister referred to Admiral Kuznetsov as the "ship of shame". The dispute between the two countries over Syrian intervention has caused tensions in the past, most recently during the Russian bombing campaign on the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2016.
Singapore: Hong Kong to release seized military vehicles
Hong Kong customs authorities will return the Terrex Infantry Carrier Vehicles to Singapore after they were seized in November 2016 at a Hong Kong port for alleged licensing breaches. The nine military vehicles were being shipped from Taiwan to Singapore via Hong Kong, while the detention of the vehicles has caused diplomatic tensions over Singapore's dealings with Taiwan, which China deems to be a breakaway state. Hong Kong has said its investigations into the incident may lead to criminal prosecution for the licensing violations.
Sri Lanka: US guided missile destroyer ends five-day call to Colombo
The USS Hopper - an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer - completed its five-day call to Colombo port, Lanka Business Online reported. The US and Sri Lankan navies conducted joint tactical training for rescue and ship inspections at sea, with both sides seeking to enhance maritime security cooperation, naval officials said.