In the past seven days there have been three suspicious incidents, including one attack, reported in the HRA:
ID 578: At 0735UTC on 6 August a merchant vessel was approached by a single skiff in position 12:53.9N 043:14.6E, Bab-el-Mandeb, southern Red Sea. As the skiff closed to within 3 cables, a ladder was seen. The vessel activated protection measures and the embarked security team fired two flares resulting in the skiff stopping its approach. No weapons were seen.
– This was the second suspicious approach in the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait within two weeks and the fifth incident in the southern Red Sea in the same period. With wind speeds averaging 8 knots and wave heights of around 0.5 metres – compared to 4 metre waves and 30 knot winds further east in the Gulf of Aden – PAGs are likely to continue operating here in the coming weeks.
ID 579: At approximately 0800UTC on 6 August an Italian Tanker was approached in the western Gulf of Aden. Eight skiffs surrounded the vessel. The embarked security team fired warning shots and the skiffs moved away.
– The location of this attack is estimated as the initial report states only that it took place in the western Gulf of Aden. The number of skiffs is unusually high, but the PAG may have coerced local fishermen to surround the vessel in order to confuse the crew and embarked security team. A similar tactic is thought to have been used during an incident involving 10 skiffs in the southern Red Sea on 30 June.
ID 580: On 12 August, the Port of Fujairah issued an alert stating that MT Bon Atlantico, an Indian-flagged product Tanker, was under attack in position: 25°09.N 057°03.E, 37nm east of Fujairah, UAE. No further details were available at the time of writing.
– This is the first incident reported in the Gulf of Oman since 21 May. Some of the incidents that occurred in the Gulf earlier in the year have been attributed to pirates originating from Iran and Pakistan. The current environmental conditions have prevented Somali PAGs from operating outside the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden so it is possible that local pirates are responsible. Crews operating here should be aware that the pirates involved in this incident may not be of the same appearance as Somali PAGs, and may still be active in the area.
In the early hours of 9 August, a product tanker was attacked while transiting 200 nautical miles south of Nigeria. A single vessel was initially identified on the ship’s radar before three small boats approached the tanker from the starboard side. A number of single shots were fired, followed shortly after by a burst of automatic fire. The Master implemented anti-piracy procedures and the crew mustered in the citadel. The pirates attempted to board the vessel at the stern but were unable to keep pace with her as the Master increased speed.
– It is extremely rare for West African pirates to attack a vessel this far from the shoreline; most attacks take place within 70 nautical miles of the coast. This attack supports the theory that Nigeria-based pirates are extending their area of operations in order to avoid regional naval patrols, but it may also highlight a further development in their modus operandi. Three hijacks off Ghana in June and July took place around 50 nautical miles from the coast, so the pirates would have been able to refuel and replenish stores in the coastal towns and villages of Benin, Togo and Ghana as they transited towards their intended area of operations. To operate 200 miles from shore, the pirates responsible for this attack would most likely require a mother ship. This will allow them to operate at extended distances from the shore and stay at sea for protracted periods of time. Therefore, it is assessed that a mother ship-based PAG remains active in this location and could conduct further attacks against merchant vessels until it achieves its aim or is interdicted by naval forces.
At 2220 local time on 11 August three robbers boarded an anchored offshore support vessel in position: 04°45.29S 11°49.27E, Pointe Noire Anchorage, The Congo. The crew noticed the robbers on deck and on the forecastle and raised the alarm. Seeing the alert crew, the robbers escaped and were seen approaching another vessel. A broadcast on VHF Channel 16 was made to alert all ships in the vicinity as well as the port authorities.
– This is the third reported boarding at Pointe Noire anchorage in the past six months; the previous two incidents took place February and March. Most robberies here can be attributed to local criminals, intent on stealing ship stores. The robbers occasionally carry long knives but on most occasions they will avoid confrontation and disembark from the vessel if challenged by crew.
On 6 August four members of a private security company operating in the coastal area off Ondo State, Nigeria, were killed and four others were left seriously injured after a shoot-out with suspected pirates. The private security personnel were patrolling the area as part of an operation against oil theft when the armed men attacked. Three members of the pirate group were also killed in the fighting.
– It appears that this attack was not a planned operation against the security company but a violent response to an approach by the security personnel. The incident is illustrative of the willingness of criminals to use violence if approached. Criminal groups are typically well armed and have engaged security forces in on several occasions during operations against the illegal fuel industry in the Niger Delta area.
At 0630 local time on 11 August four robbers in a wooden boat approached an anchored chemical tanker in position 03:54N 098:46E, Belawan Outer Anchorage, Indonesia. One of the robbers boarded the vessel and attempted to steal the ship’s stores from the forecastle store. Duty crew noticed the robber and informed OOW who raised the alarm, sounded ship’s whistle and mustered the crew. Seeing the crew alertness, the robber escaped with his accomplices empty handed.
– This is the second boarding at Belawan anchorage in the past three weeks, and the fourth since 22 May. Most incidents are aborted when the robbers are confronted by crew. In those cases where the boarding is not detected, ship stores such as paint and mooring ropes are usually stolen.
Select Maritime News:
On 5 August three major shipping organisations released advice on the ebola epidemic. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Maritime Employers’ Council (IMEC) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) issued guidance aimed at crews conducting port calls in ebola-affected countries. The guidance highlights the importance of crew awareness and recommends denial of access to vessels to any unauthorised persons. Additionally crew changes in affected countries should be avoided and any crew member experiencing symptoms of the virus are encouraged to seek immediate medical attention. The ebola virus began in Guinea in February and has killed more than 900 people to date. Many shipping lines have already suspended crew changes and shore leave in West Africa prompting fears that companies could reduce regional operations further if the situation continues to deteriorate.