US MARAD updates security advisories on Gulf of Guinea, Red Sea/Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf

The US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (US MARAD) has revised its advisory for the Gulf of Guinea and, in separate advisories for the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf, reports Norway-based marine insurer Skuld.

The Gulf of Guinea revision, issued at the start of 2021, noted that attackers operating off the southern and eastern Niger Delta remained the most significant threat in the Gulf of Guinea. Although all types of vessels were at risk, successful boardings were more likely on ‘low and slow’ vessel types such as small bulk carriers or product tankers, general cargo and offshore supply ships or fishing vessels.

The dry season in the Niger Delta will continue until about March. This period permits operations of small boats offshore and for attacks at significant distances from the coastline (potentially up to 250nm off the coastline in the dry season), including in the EEZs of neighbouring countries.

Throughout the Gulf of Guinea, the threat of kidnap-for-ransom attacks is assessed as moderate to high for the coming month, depending on the distance from the Niger Delta coastline where perpetrators have access to the necessary infrastructure to protect hostages from security forces and rival gangs during ransom negotiations.

MARAD’s advisory revision reflected growing international concern for maritime security in West Africa and more specifically, the Gulf of Guinea. The advisory includes guidance for vessels transiting this area to visit the new Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade-Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) and the NATO Shipping Centre website for additional information on threats and specific recommendations.

US flag vessels anchoring, transiting, or operating in this region must comply with their approved Vessel Security Plans.

Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean

MARAD also revised its advisory for the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean regions in a late 2020 advisory (2020-017).

This advisory warned that the conflict in Yemen continued to pose a risk to commercial vessels from threats which could come from a number of different sources. These included missiles, rockets, projectiles, mines, small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, or waterborne improvised explosive devices.

Additionally, piracy continued to pose a threat in the Gulf of Aden, Western Arabian Sea, and Western Indian Ocean.

The MARAD advisory recommended that vessels operating in this area review their security measures, ensure their AIS was always transmitting (except in extraordinary circumstances, consistent with provisions of SOLAS), and monitor VHF Channel 16.

Vessels were advised to avoid entering or loitering near Yemen’s ports, and to exercise increased caution if entering Yemen’s territorial waters or Saudi territorial waters north of Yemen on the Red Sea. They were also advised to establish and remain in contact with the UK Maritime Trade Office (UKMTO) as per the BMP5, to report immediately any incident or suspicious incident, and to answer all VHF calls from coalition navies.

Other advice was to register and report their vessels as per the BMP5 procedures, ensure that the vessel is hardened prior to entering the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Somalia/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean high-risk areas, and to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch while transiting these waters.

Persian Gulf

MARAD revised its advisory for the Persian Gulf region on January 7th. It noted that multiple maritime threats had been reported in these geographic areas, including a mine placed on the hull of a Liberian-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf off Iraq on December 31st and the Iranian seizure of a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on January 4th. It said that heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continued to pose serious threats to commercial vessels.

Associated with these threats was the potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions. Vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman might also encounter GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning, the advisory warned, noting that vessels had also reported bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships.

US MARAD additionally warned that all vessels should be aware that US and other coalition naval forces might conduct maritime awareness calls, queries, and approaches to ensure the safety of vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, and Arabian Sea. If a US flag commercial vessel suspected it was being hailed from a source falsely claiming to be a US or coalition naval vessel, or was being asked for positions or info on coalition military vessels or aircraft operating in the area, the US Fifth Fleet Battle Watch should be immediately informed.