High piracy risk in Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and adjoining waters – maritime security report

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The current world maritime hotspot around the Red Sea, northern Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and East Africa saw six incidents at sea reported in one week of April.

By contrast, other hotspots, including the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa and east and south-east Asian waters reported zero for the 25 to 30 April week a global MS Risk/Price Forbes maritime security report has it.

On the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and East Africa – all waters where international naval task forces are operational – the report has it vessels operating in them remain at a high risk of piracy, coupled with a risk of vessel damage due to ongoing conflict in the region.

“The waters of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Somalia, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean remain a high risk area and heightened vigilance is recommended. As of April, MS Risk assess the risk to all commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea as high,” adding an advisory for Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Strait. This reads: “Tensions in the region remain heightened and further attacks on merchant shipping in the region are highly likely to occur in the coming weeks”.

The advisory and warning are coupled to a United States (US) Maritime Administration March warning recommending vessels turn off automatic identification system (AIS) transponders to reduce the risk of being targeted, especially in areas where the threat from Houthi forces is most significant. The advisory further noted the continued threat of Iran attempting to illegally board and seize commercial vessels in the region, highlighting several incidents last year.

The report continues: “Possible attacks targeting commercial shipping in the region could include deliberate sinkings, damage to vessels or seizure of vessels; hazards to safe navigation in shipping lanes; helicopter attacks; aerial threat and indirect fire risks from drones, missiles, ship and shore launched rocket systems; helicopter borne capture parties; small craft attacks and capture parties; sea drones and sea mines; state boardings and seizures (by Iran or other state actors); non-state actor boarding and capture of vessels (by Houthis and other non-state actors); pirate attacks and hijacking by Somali-based pirates”.

Attacks on shipping by Houthi rebels in Yemen continue on a weekly basis, with one ship already sunk as a result. Somali pirates are taking advantage of the turbulent situation around the Horn of Africa to launch hijacking attempts, most recently on 10 May when the Marshall Islands-flagged product tanker Chrystal Arctic was attacked by a skiff with suspected pirates on board while travelling 100 nautical miles north of Bosaso, Somalia. There was an exchange of fire between the ship’s security team and the suspected pirates.

Half a dozen pirates were subsequently apprehended by Operation Atalanta naval forces after the failed attack.

According to the European Union Naval Force, there could be two or more pirate action groups (PAGs) operating off the wider Somalia coastline, which includes the semi-autonomous Puntland region. Two merchant vessels have already been highjacked since December, of which one was rescued by the Indian Navy, and the other reportedly released with its crew after a ransom was paid. Several smaller fishing vessels have also been hijacked by Somali pirates.