Following their recent update on piracy attacks, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), BIMCO and Intertanko have published an Interim Guidance on Maritime Security in the Southern Red Sea and Bab Al-Mandeb, to be followed in conjunction with Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia-Based Piracy (BMP 4).
The new advice offers guidance for Company Security Officers (CSOs) and Masters in conducting risk assessments when planning a transit through high-risk areas.
This includes identification of maritime security threats such as missiles, sea mines and water borne improvised explosive devices (WBIED).
The interim guidance advises operators to report to the Maritime Security Centre, Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) prior to entering the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC) to ensure that the military is aware of their presence and that relevant contact details and reports of any suspicious activity have been provided.
The conflict in Yemen has introduced additional maritime security threats, other than piracy, to the Southern Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb; these include collateral damage due to conflict between groups in the region and a potential deliberate targeting of ships.
The Guidance noted that the situation internally in Yemen and within its ports meant that perceived non-piracy threats might be reported at short notice, and CSOs and Masters should, therefore, assess the suitability of mitigation measures against more than one type of threat.
The guide said that military-published threat assessments, as well as the threat and risk information provided by flag states, should be consulted regularly in order to fully understand current threats and the likelihood of attack. Risk assessments should take into account the threat level information provided by the flag state.
The Guidance said that, while BMP measures were effective mitigation of piracy, it should be recognized that other threats might have differences in attack methodology and intent and might therefore require other forms of mitigation. For example, attacks carried out by non-pirate groups might be more determined, even risking injury or death, and this might diminish the effectiveness of some of the self-protection measures successfully used against pirates in the region.
Missiles had been used against military ships in the region, but there was no indication that merchant shipping was likely to be deliberately targeted. There was however a risk of misidentification or collateral damage to merchant shipping and as such it was strongly recommended that ships utilize the Maritime Security Transit Corridor (MSTC) and maintain an awareness of the other vessels around them.
Sea mines had been used to deter and deny Saudi-led coalition forces access to key ports in Yemen’s southern Red Sea area. Although merchant shipping was not the target, sea mines might affect commercial ships using these ports or routeing close to the Yemeni Coastline. Once again it was strongly recommended that ships utilise the MSTC when transiting through the area.
Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (WBIED)
An attack involving a WBIED would likely involve one or more skiffs approaching the merchant ship at high speed firing both small arms and Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs). One or more of the boats might be laden with explosives. On the basis of current understanding it was assessed that merchant shipping was unlikely to be directly targeted by a WBIED. However the Guidance said that a risk of collateral damage or misidentification remained.
Information on changes in modus operandi in WBIED tactics would be provided in the Industry Releasable Threat Bulletins (IRTBs) regularly disseminated by Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Navigational Warnings (NAVWARNS) would provide immediate information on incidents and threats.
The Guidance said that WBIED attacks had been used against Saudi coalition warships and associated assets The MV Muskie (31 May 2017) and MV Galicia Spirit (25 October 2016) incidents, which took place in the southern approaches to the Bab al-Mandeb (BAM), highlighted a non-piracy attack by groups operating in Southern Yemen.
In these incidents there was an explosion during the approach and, likely attempted boarding respectively. The Guidance said that this tactic “marked a significant departure from Somali piracy and, other incidents associated with the Yemen conflict, and as such the likely intent and perpetrators are not clear”.
Two separate incidents on January 6th 2018, approximately 45 nm off the port of Al Hudaydah, Yemen, involved suspicious approaches to two merchant ships by two speed boats carrying armed personnel with optical equipment and one unmanned boat. After the merchant ships undertook evasive action, the speed boats broke off their approach. The speed boats subsequently approached a tanker under escort and the escort vessel engaged the speed boats and destroyed the unmanned vessel.
The Guidance concluded that, although it remained unlikely that merchant shipping would be targeted deliberately, the potential for collateral damage and misidentification remained, and ships were recommended to utilize the MSTC to minimize this risk.