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Icon representing Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19
Maritime Information Warfare Conference 2019 -London -November 18-19

November 18th 2019
Icon representing CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus
CYPnaval Conference - October 2nd - Cyprus

October 2nd 2019
Icon representing CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker
CSOA First Response Report: Iran Seizes British Tanker

July 20th 2019

Indian Ocean Region Security Update

November 4th 2016
In October there has been significant hostile activity against the military and the merchant marine. This summary gives a breakdown:


1.     Action against the Military

2.     Action against the Merchant Marine

3.     Analysis


Background: Bab el-Mandeb Strait


The West of Yemen (bordering the Bab el Mandeb Strait) remains under al Houthi-Saleh control.


1.         Action against Military


On October 1st, the HSV-2 Swift supply vessel was transiting from Aden to al Hodeidah, Yemen when it was struck by a missile. Video released by al Houthi-Saleh rebels show the vessel on fire following the attack. It is believed that the missile was fired from shore, close to Mocha, Yemen, under cover of darkness. A C704 anti-ship missile was believed to have been used in the attack. These are Chinese-manufactured weapons systems which have been sold to Iran. Experts believe that Iran has smuggled these weapons to Houthi factions within Yemen.


Additional video footage of the event was captured by the occupants of skiffs near the Swift, who later attacked with small arms fire, according to the crew of the ship. It is likely these small boats were also used to confirm the target.


On October 8th at 1900 LT, three US Navy vessels which had been deployed to the region were also targeted. The USS Mason was locked on to and two missiles were fired at her while in a similar position to the Swift. The engagement lasted approximately 60 minutes and neither weapon struck the Mason. The US Navy reported sighting skiffs operating close by, possibly being used to confirm targeting.


On October 12th, the USS Mason was again targeted by missiles in a second failed attack from the Yemen coast. Once again, the missiles failed to strike their target.


In response, on October 15th, the US Navy launched cruise missile attacks against three fixed radar stations within Yemen in an attempt to disrupt Houthi targeting. However, on October 16th, the USS Mason was reportedly targeted by missiles based on the Yemen coast. The ship deployed countermeasures to ensure the attack was unsuccessful, although an investigation is ongoing as to whether the ship was indeed targeted on this occasion. It is likely that Houthi rebels have access to mobile radar platforms, although this remains unconfirmed at this time.


The Houthis have denied responsibility for the attacks against the US vessels.


2.         Action against the Merchant Marine:


On October 3rd, a merchant ship reported an approach to two cables in position 14:01.37N-042:49.63E at 0650 UTC, around 2nm East of Jazirat Jabal Zuqar island, Southern Red Sea. The skiff had a black hull and contained six persons wearing black and white clothing. Several weapons were sighted on board. The MV’s embarked armed security team displayed their weapons and the skiff moved away. It is suspected that the occupants were Houthi rebels.  (UKMTO)


On October 22nd, a MV reported an approach by a blue-hulled skiff with 5-6 persons on board at 0555 UTC in position 04:28.1N-053:22.2E, around 300nm off the coast of Somalia. At a CPA of two cables, warning shots were fired by the MV’s embarked armed security team. They report an alleged return of fire from the skiff which then moved away. (UKMTO)


On October 25th, the LNG tanker Galicia Spirit was attacked at 1000 UTC in position 12:32.6N-043:32.8E, around 9nm off Perim Island, Yemen. One of four small boats approached the tanker and fired small arms at her. Teekay released a statement denying that a RPG had been fired at the ship. The damage had not been established at the time of the report, but the ship continuined her passage.

Subsequently, Teekay released information which stated that the tanker had been approached by a skiff containing “a substantial amount of” explosives. The skiff detonated some 20 metres from the tanker and caused no significant damage. Investigations continue, but no clear motive for the attack has been established.


The incident has very clear ramifications for all vessels transiting the region.


On October 26th, regional media reported that the LNG tanker, MT Melati Satu, had also been attacked as it transiting the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on the 25th. The reports state that she was fired on by a RPG. However, UKMTO contacted the ship and confirmed that no incident had taken place. The report emanated from the Saudi coalition in Yemen and named the vessel. It is curious that they should make such an obvious mistake and sources suggest there is more to the story. While no official incident report was made, we continue to carry the news article on the Alliance website.


3.         Analysis


CSO Alliance believes that the current increase in potential threat in the region bears sharing with members. Clearly, the overspill from the conflict in Yemen to the Bab el-Mandeb is a concern to commercial shipping, as the risks of rebels targeting a merchant ship at night in the BAM remain high.


The incident on October 22nd appears to tie in with recent activity in the region by naval forces. The South African Navy has once again deployed a vessel to the Mozambique Channel as part of its ongoing Operation Copper. This mission is intelligence-led; the Navy has stated that a vessel will only be deployed if they have reason to believe one is necessary. The SA Navy often monitors the region using maritime surveillance aircraft when the threat is perceived as low.


Additionally, in late September, EUNAVFOR completed Focused Operation (FO) ‘Taegeukgi’. This mission was conducted in littoral areas off the NE Somali coast in conjunction with the Combined Maritime Task Force’s CTF-151. The aims were to:


• Disrupt and deter piracy or piracy preparations

• Analyse pattern of life locally as the monsoon season transitions


Conversations with former EUNAVFOR operational commanders suggest that while these missions are an overall success, pirate action groups (PAGs) are adept at putting to sea at very short notice, with minimal preparations. Therefore such missions often do not deter them. Additionally, pirates have not ‘gone away’; they have simply returned to land-based crime while the seas have been too secure. If piracy proves itself to be lucrative once again, they will return to the water.


The incident on October 22nd, where a skiff was sighted 300nm off Somalia, is notable as it strongly suggests a PAG may be operational; a skiff would need to be supported by a larger vessel, possibly a dhow or whaler, that far out into the Indian Ocean. This theory will only be proved should further sightings be made, and we will update members accordingly.


As reports of piracy diminish, the temptation is to cut costs by transiting at a lower speed and without armed protection. Various industry bodies have warned against this and the dangers of complacency when transiting pirate waters. Given recent events, those fears are not unfounded.


At present, it is not known whether the attackers in either incident on the 25th were Houthi rebels, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) or pirates. Where possible, piracy awareness training should be reinforced and robust watch routines initiated for vessels transiting the region. BMP4 measures must be enforced through the HRA. Ships using the BAM must switch AIS on to ensure they are not wrongly targeted by Yemeni rebel groups.


All approaching small boat traffic should be regarded as potentially hostile, given the incident on October 25th. CSO Alliance recommends that members transiting without armed security teams strongly reconsider their position until guidance from regional navies and governments filter through.


Ships transiting the BAM should, where possible, keep to the Western TSS and make best speed, preferably during daylight hours. Masters should confirm their presence with the Saudi naval coalition off Yemen. Equally, Masters should be aware that patrols from Eritrea may approach their vessels.


Vessels transiting the Somali Basin should be aware of the increased threat of approach by Somali pirates both close to shore and in blue water.