Friday, January 26, 2018

Container Ships and Tankers Face New Threats as Pirate Attacks Diminish

Merchant Shipping Groups Caution Against Sea Mines, Missiles and Other Weaponry
Shipping News Feature
RED SEA – YEMEN – Whilst the threat of pirate attacks in the India Ocean has dwindled of late, thanks to better on board security, the adherence to Best Management Practices (BMP4) and, not least, the continuous vigilance of both European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), alas new threats to the container ships and tankers that regularly ply the waters in the busy offshoot that passes through the Gulf of Aden toward Suez have escalated due to the conflict in Yemen.

In response to the new threats arising from the Yemeni hostilities, BIMCO, ICS and INTERTANKO have published interim guidance on maritime security in the southern Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Strait, an area essential to trade and yet which involves a passage where war now rages. The advice should still be heeded in conjunction with the BMP4 instructions and BIMCO Head of Maritime Security, Phil Tinsley, appears now in a video giving an up to date appraisal of the situation, describing how the Houthi rebels are looking for ways to affect the conflict with the forces facing them.

As well as drifting sea mines which may have broken loose from their original mooring sites, put in place to deter and deny Saudi-led coalition forces access to key ports in Yemen’s southern Red Sea area, plus wayward missiles, perhaps not directed purposely at a merchant ship, there is a new threat which combines two, already potentially deadly elements. These are the armed skiffs, as used so often by Somali pirates and often acting in tandem, and the improvised explosive device (IED), only too familiar to those engaged in conflicts throughout some of the Arabian states.

This unholy alliance is referred to as a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED) and may involve one or more skiffs approaching the merchant ship and assaulting it with a variety of weapons including rocket propelled grenades and automatic fire. Accompanying the attackers may be one or more boats loaded with explosives. On the basis of current understanding the three shipping organisations say they assess that merchant shipping is unlikely to be directly targeted by a WBIED, however the risk of collateral damage or misidentification remains.

Two vessels, the 2017 assault on the MV Muskie and the previous year’s attack on the MV Galicia Spirit, both of which took place in the approaches to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and neither of which appeared to be by pirates, were marked by explosions and, just this month, skiffs were sighted by several vessels which evaded them. An unmanned skiff accompanying these potential attackers was apparently subsequently destroyed by a vessel escorting a tanker which had been approached.

Angus Frew, BIMCO Secretary General and CEO said how important it is that company security officers and ship masters are informed of these new specific threats, as the threat patterns and mitigating measures differ from the more familiar regional threat of piracy. He continued:

“We’ve been advised that these threats are real, and therefore decided to provide guidance for ships operating in the area. We have seen two incidents in January, and we want to make sure owners and operators are aware and advise their crews accordingly.”

INTERTANKO’s Marine Director, Dr Phillip Belcher, said the three organisations had cooperated on producing a practical guide for masters and seafarers which he felt would become a valuable planning tool and should provide some reassurance to the industry, and ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe, concluded:

“This guidance supports the activity of military forces in the region, and adds a further layer to the awareness and preparedness of ships in the region. That trade continues through these waters demonstrates shipping’s resilience in the face of such threats. The ability of the industry to successfully risk assess dynamic situations in cooperation with State resources and naval operations ensures the continued safety and security of maritime trade”.