UKMTO issues updated Bab el Mandeb security notice

United Kingdom Maritime trade Operations (UKMTO) has released a guidance notice regarding vessels transiting the Bab el Mandeb (BeM) Straits and adjacent waters. The notice draws attention to recent attacks on two vessels transiting Bab el Mandeb from the Gulf of Aden, where tankers were fired upon with small arms and rocket propelled grenades from multiple small skiffs.

UKMTO reported that some of the skiffs involved were filled with explosives and during the attacks these explosives were detonated. North P&I Club said that the notice highlighted the importance of conducting a voyage risk assessment prior to entering high risk areas, and following the advice laid out in BMP4.

UKMTO said that the method of the vessel attacks entailed two or more skiffs approaching at high speed. In each case, one or more have fired small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades and carried explosives. In both attacks, the skiffs carrying explosives detonated them at a distance from the target vessel, but the presumed intent was to detonate the explosives against the hull. The assessment of the attacks against merchant vessels in the southern approaches to the BeM indicates that due to the low levels of sophistication, the exposure to the threat is greater in daylight hours. However, an attack during the hours of darkness was not excluded.

UKMTO also said that the risk of the conflict in Yemen spilling into the maritime domain continued to exist in the area to the north of the BeM and around the Hanish Islands. “Even though we do not expect merchant vessels to be targeted by the forces fighting in Yemen, the threat of collateral damage to commercial shipping is present and should not be ignored”, said UKMTO. This threat was assessed to be greater in the hours of darkness (when attackers may be more likely to misidentify their targets) to the North of the Traffic Separation Scheme to the West of the Hanish Islands.