Container Ships and Tankers Face New Threats as Pirate Attacks Diminish

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Merchant Shipping Groups Caution Against Sea Mines, Missiles and Other Weaponry

  • Container Ships are caught in a conflict zone in Yemen.
  • INTERTANKO has warned of Missiles and Sea Mines attacks in the Red Sea Area.
  • Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED) is another cause of worry.
  • BIMCO, ICS and INTERTANKO has published a maritime safety guideline.

Although incidents of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean has dwindled in the recent time yet new onboard security have increased due to the threat of fresh attacks. The adherence to Best Management Practices (BMP4) and the continuous vigilance of both European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) bears testimonial to that. The rising conflict in Yemen has resulted into new threats in the Gulf of Aden area which is availed by most container ships heading towards the Suez Canal.

In response to these new threats, BIMCO, ICS and INTERTANKO have published interim guidance on maritime security in the southern Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Strait, an area essential to trade and yet which involves a passage where war now rages. The advice should still be heeded in conjunction with the BMP4 instructions and BIMCO Head of Maritime Security, Phil Tinsley, appears now in a video giving an up to date appraisal of the situation, describing how the Houthi rebels are looking for ways to affect the conflict with the forces facing them.

The looming danger

Drifting sea mines placed to deter the Saudi forces at the Red Sea, are a source of concern for container ships passing through the region. Another potential threat are the undirected wayward missiles fired in the area. Ships are heavily burdened by these 2 threats and are often left in the lurch by them. These armed skiffs, are often by Somali pirates and they act in tandem with the improvised explosive device (IED), familiar to those engaged in conflicts in some of the Arabian states.

This unholy alliance is referred to as a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED) and may involve one or more skiffs approaching the merchant ship and assaulting it with a variety of weapons including rocket propelled grenades and automatic fire. Accompanying the attackers may be one or more boats loaded with explosives. On the basis of current understanding the three shipping organisations say they assess that merchant shipping is unlikely to be directly targeted by a WBIED, however the risk of collateral damage or misidentification remains.

Vessels Affected

Two vessels, the 2017 assault on the MV Muskie and the previous year’s attack on the MV Galicia Spirit, both of which took place in the approaches to the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and neither of which appeared to be by pirates, were marked by explosions and, just this month, skiffs were sighted by several vessels which evaded them. An unmanned skiff accompanying these potential attackers was apparently subsequently destroyed by a vessel escorting a tanker which had been approached.

“We’ve been advised that these threats are real, and therefore decided to provide guidance for ships operating in the area. We have seen two incidents in January, and we want to make sure owners and operators are aware and advise their crews accordingly”, said Angus Frew, BIMCO Secretary General and CEO.

Maritime Safety Guidelines

“This guidance supports the activity of military forces in the region, and adds a further layer to the awareness and preparedness of ships in the region. That trade continues through these waters demonstrates shipping’s resilience in the face of such threats. The ability of the industry to successfully risk assess dynamic situations in cooperation with State resources and naval operations ensures the continued safety and security of maritime trade”, said ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe.

INTERTANKO’s Marine Director, Dr Phillip Belcher underlined that the three organisations had cooperated on producing a practical guide for masters and seafarers which he felt would become a valuable planning tool.

So, it’s absolutely essential to adhere to these guidelines for a safe passage through the conflict zone.

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Source: ICS Shipping

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