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US issues new advisory to shipping in Middle East

The US Maritime Administration (MARAD) has issued a new advisory to shipping that extends previous guidelines for US-flagged commercial ships that are navigating through high-risk areas. It replaces a previously issued advisory. The high-risk areas include the Southern Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, around the Gulf of Aden, as well as the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding waters.

It said that the new guidance comes in response to the volatile maritime security situation in the region from a combination of Houthi attacks from Yemen, the resurgence of Somali piracy, and aggressive actions by Iran that the advisory said, were affecting international shipping lanes critical to the global economy.

One of the new recommendations advises that vessels turn off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders to reduce the risk of being targeted, especially in areas where the threat from Houthi forces is most significant.

In addition to threats from the Houthis and Somali piracy, the advisory also covers risks from Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, and Arabian Sea. Since 2018, Iran has attempted to illegally board and seize commercial vessels on more than 20 occasions. “Iranian forces have utilized small boats and helicopters during boarding operations and have attempted to force commercial vessels into Iranian territorial waters,” the advisory states.

MARAD recommended in the advisory note that, if approached by Iranian forces, vessels should affirm their adherence to international law. They should also remain as far from Iran’s territorial waters as possible without compromising navigational safety.

The advisory also warns about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and limpet mines.

A significant development in the advisory is the creation of the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden Joint Maritime Information Centre (JMIC). MARAD said that this would be a collective effort aimed at providing updated threat assessments and incident reports to improve response coordination.