In response to the threats arising from the conflict in Yemen, BIMCO, ICS and INTERTANKO have published interim guidance on maritime security in the southern Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb. Shipowners and operators should be aware of new threats in the area, say the organizations. The European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) have advised that a range of threats other than piracy, such as sea mines and water-borne improvised explosive devices (WBIEDs), are potential risks in the area.
Missiles are long range, accurate and powerful weapons and have been used against military ships in the region. There is no indication that merchant shipping is likely to be deliberately targeted, but there is the risk of misidentification or collateral damage to merchant shipping.
Sea mines have been used to deter and deny Saudi-led coalition forces access to key ports in Yemen’s southern Red Sea area. Whilst merchant shipping is not the target, sea mines may affect commercial ships using these ports or routeing close to the Yemeni Coastline.
Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (WBIED)
An attack involving a WBIED is likely to involve one or more skiffs approaching the merchant ship at high speed firing both small arms and Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPGs). One or more of the boats may be laden with explosives. On the basis of current understanding it is assessed that merchant shipping is unlikely to be directly targeted by a WBIED, however the risk of collateral damage or misidentification remains.
WBIED attacks have been used against Saudi coalition warships and associated assets such as military supply ships in the southern Red Sea. The MV Muskie (May 31, 2017) and MV Galicia Spirit (October 25, 2016) incidents, which took place in the southern approaches to the Bab al-Mandeb (BAM), highlight a non-piracy attack by groups operating in Southern Yemen. In these incidents there was an explosion during the approach and, likely attempted boarding respectively. This tactic marked a significant departure from Somali piracy and, other incidents associated with the Yemen conflict, and as such the likely intent and perpetrators are not clear.
Two separate incidents on January 6, 2018 approximately 45 nautical miles off the port of Al Hudaydah, Yemen, involved suspicious approaches to two merchant ships by two speed boats carrying armed personnel with optical equipment and one unmanned boat. After the merchant ships undertook evasive action, the speed boats broke off their approach. The speed boats subsequently approached a tanker under escort and the escort vessel engaged the speed boats and destroyed the unmanned vessel.
The guidance stresses the importance of using the Maritime Security Transit Corridor, registration with MSCHOA and reporting to UKMTO, as well as reviewing and updating risk assessments and plans to include these new threats. The guidance also includes advice specific to identified threat types, including WBIEDs and complements the guidance provided in BMP 4.
The Interim Guidance on Maritime Security in the Southern Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb is available on the BIMCO, ICS and INTERTANKO websites.