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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
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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

The Yemen Factor

April 7th 2017
While the maritime media concentrates on the ‘resurgence’ of Somali piracy, the greater threat to shipping is still the conflict in Yemen, which continues to spill over in to the Southern Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait.


Within the last two weeks, senior US military personnel have discussed their concerns about the safety of shipping in the region, and the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) has issued an alert to US-flagged vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Their fear is that al Houthi-Saleh rebels operating on the Red Sea coast could target American ships, associating them with the ongoing conflict and Saudi-led coalition.


The past month has seen a significant increase in threats to merchant shipping. Intelligence analysts and ultimately, MARAD, warned of the risk of sea mines in the approach to Mokha port. Their fears were confirmed when a Yemen Coast Guard vessel struck a mine on March 10th, killing two crew. Subsequently, Saudi coalition forces found a number of mines and deactivated them near Midi, Yemen and Mokha. 


The mines found were floating types with contact detonators and, according to at least one analyst, were likely to be capable of sinking a merchant vessel based on their size. Given the mines found by the coalition were floating rather than anchored, there is still a concern that some may not have been discovered due to tidal activity and the Eastern boundary current.


While sea mines represent a passive danger to shipping, the actions of suspected Houthi rebels at sea pose an equal risk. On April 3rd, UKMTO reported that a merchant ship was approached in position 13:10N-043:03E by six skiffs containing five people in each. Ladders with hooks were reportedly sighted in the skiffs. Fortunately, the ship was carrying an armed security team who took up position on the bridge wings and made their presence clear. The skiffs moved away after a few minutes.


The incident and location suggest militant activity rather than piracy, as does the number of personnel involved. Elements from Yemen have a track record of attacks against shipping in the region. On January 30th, Houthis used a remote controlled vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) to attack a Saudi frigate, while 2016 saw several attacks against vessels.


Recent reports of Saudi forces destroying ‘boat bombs’ were added to on April 1st, when it was reported that the coalition destroyed several more explosive boats near Hodeidah port. The Saudi belief is that these vessels would venture out into the BAM to attack other ships. Whether they were intended to target naval or merchant vessels is not known.


While the media continues to cover the return of piracy to Somalia, CSO Alliance remains concerned that the possible risks off Yemen are being underplayed. As with Somali piracy, we recommend enforcing BMP4 measures and following the advice given to use best speed through the BAM, avoid transiting during the hours of darkness (when vessel silhouette may be mistaken for a naval ship) and to keep clear of the Yemen coast where possible.


News that the Saudi coalition is advancing plans to retake Hodeidah may see an escalation in risk to shipping and, until the Houthis are removed from the coast, the danger to merchant shipping remains.


[Houthi Sea mine image via Twitter]