Mozambique rebellion begins to threaten shipping

There is little that the shipping industry likes less than the prospect of an unstable state in East Africa, and there are worries that the current insurgency in Northern Mozambique was steadily transmuting into a serious maritime security threat in the Western Indian Ocean.

On March 24th militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) group conducted an ambush in Palma – a coastal town near Total’s Mozambique LNG offshore gas project. It left dozens dead and many more injured.

Total had only just resumed operations on its gas project after a two-month pause due to security concerns.

Some contractors and delivery company workers – most of them expatriates – were caught in the ambush and were still missing.

Rebels in Cabo Delgado province have shown increasing capability in conducting amphibious attacks. In strike last year, they seized and briefly held the important seaport of Mocimboa da Praia.

The obvious concern is that an increasing ability to work at sea as well as on land could be only a short step towards piracy. Nearly a third of the world’s tanker traffic transits the Mozambique Channel.

Although the country is not approaching the failed state status that left Somalia a home for pirates for many years at the start of this century. Mozambique’s government has appeared unable to enforce stability in Cabo Delgado.

Its economy is also struggling, and that has been reflected in weaker funding for the military. Some  600,000 people have been reported as internally displaced by the chaos, which could offer fertile ground for piracy recruitment.

There were fears that it was only a matter of time before what for the moment remained a Mozambique problem becomes an international one.