Maritime Security in the Middle East - April to August 2019
Traveling the seas is an incredible way to see the world but it comes with a unique set of challenges and potential security risks. For travel risk managers and captains planning a trip to the Middle East, Securewest has provided an overview on maritime security in the region from April to August 2019.
Crime and piracy are now a worldwide, lucrative industry and there are very few regions that are untouched. Vessels of any type are routinely approached, boarded and hijacked, with crew and passengers being targets for kidnap, attack and robbery. These are potential threats that the captain and crew have to be ready for at all times but the risks can be mitigated with professional training, intelligence and vigilance.
During the reporting period of 1 April 2019 and 1 August 2019, the Securewest International Global Response Centre (GRC) recorded a total of 73 incidents in the detailed area up to 20 kilometers inland. Nineteen were maritime related and 54 occurred along the coastline’s towns and cities.
PERSIAN GULF - ARABIAN SEA - RED SEA
Location of maritime and land incidents up to 20km inland:
The Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz
This area has been a hotbed of tension and worry for all those making the passage through this narrow channel. Hostility towards commercial shipping in the region is at an all-time high, and incidents of terrorism have affected cities along the coastline, both on land and at sea.
The most notable occurrences in the past month were reported as Maritime General Security Warnings regarding the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and their harassment and seizure of the British-flagged vessel, the STENA IMPERO, in the Strait of Hormuz on 19 July 2019. This was prompted following the Royal Navy’s boarding and subsequent detention of the crew of the Iranian-flagged vessel, the GRACE 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on 4 July 2019, with the support of the Royal Marines.
These events have placed Iran under further sanctions and raised tension in the region to the highest point in recent times. IRGC vessels are now actively impeding British flagged vessels whilst under way through the Strait.
When visiting any location, it is imperative to do your research, ensuring you are up to date with the latest news and the civil/political situation. Knowing the culture and ways of the local people will aid a safe and enjoyable stay.
Unfortunately, a considerable amount of the designated region has been affected by conflict and terrorism. In eastern Saudi Arabia, the coastal towns of Damman and Al-Qatif have seen isolated incidents of terrorism involving security forces of the Sunni-dominated government and minority Shi’ites in the region, who claim to be discriminated against and mistreated. Bahrain has recently seen a rise in protests and demonstrations as a result of the government's execution of activists.
The Gulf of Oman
The Gulf of Oman was the scene for attacks on four commercial vessels in the vicinity of Fujairah Port (UAE) on 12 May 2019, involving the KSA-flagged tankers AL MARZOQAH and AMJAD, the NIS-flagged tanker ANDREA VICTORY and the UAE-flagged tanker A MICHEL. There was no suggestion that the attacks were against any specific flag state. The method of attack is thought to have involved the use of underwater drones with high grade explosives detonating on impact; delivery into the water was probably from small surface vessels operating in the area.
The situation and tension in the region have been escalated by the two recent incidents that took place on 13 July 2019, southwest of Bandar e Jask in Iran, where two oil tankers were simultaneously attacked by what were reported to be limpet mines. Both vessels were traveling in international waters between Fujairah (UAE) and Jask (Iran) at the time of the attacks. The vessels involved were the Marshall Island flagged tanker, FRONT ALTAIR and the Panama flagged tanker, KOKUKA COURAGEOUS. This caused a dramatic rise in tension between the US and Iran after the US attributed blame to the IRGC.
The Arabian Sea
This has remained relatively peaceful and quiet by comparison to the rest of the region in recent months. Few incidents have occurred, and superyachts have been completely unaffected by events in the reporting area. However, the tanker, ARIONAS, was robbed while at anchor in Deendayal Port in India and smugglers are very active in the area. Their main objective is movement of migrants and refugees from Djibouti across to Yemen, in the hope of being able to transit onwards to one of the wealthier Gulf states.
It is imperative that yacht crew remain aware of the potential presence of small craft during any passage. Along the coastline of the Arabian Sea the majority of the incidents recorded are of a criminal or terrorist nature, with prime locations being the port cities of Gwadar, Ormara and Karachi along the southern coastline of Pakistan.
In Mumbai, India, there were several incidents involving building collapses and heavy seasonal rain that caused the breach of a dam. This resulted in significant damage and subsequent flooding throughout the city.
The Gulf of Aden
In the Gulf of Aden, also known as the Gulf of Berbera, there have been very few maritime incidents recorded for crime or piracy over the last few months, but three incidents were recorded in the port city of Aden in Yemen. On 14 April 2019, Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) suspended work at its hospital after one of their patients was kidnapped and murdered. On 3 June 2019, there were reports that the Houthi movement had launched a drone attack on a military parade for Saudi-led coalition forces that was being conducted in the port city of Aden.
The Red Sea
In the Red Sea, three Maritime General Security Warnings were issued by the US Maritime Administration: advisory 2019-006 regarding heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and interests, and advisory 2019-007 regarding violence due to regional conflict and piracy. The third advisory concerned information regarding an attempted attack on an unnamed cargo vessel by the Iranian aligned Houthi rebels who denied the allegations. On 1 July 2019, a Motor Vessel was approached by three skiff, 14 nm NW of Perim Island, Bab al Mandeb, each reported to have had five men on board. The vessel's armed security team showed their weapons and the skiffs rapidly moved away.
Safety on Land
Upon reaching your destination, or indeed a short stop over during transit, some basic measures can be applied to ensure the crews' safety during their time ashore.
Unfamiliar places could potentially result in unwanted confrontation due to something as small as a cultural difference that you were unaware of, so a basic understanding of the local etiquette and some culture awareness is paramount. Ensuring a basic level of situational awareness before arrival in a new country will also go some way to protecting you in the environment that you’ll be arriving in.
Once ashore and exploring the local area, remain cvigilant and avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself, for example by wearing expensive jewellery or dressing up. Be mindful of your environment and try to blend in to avoid presenting yourself as a possible target.
Safety at Sea
For the yachting community, making just a few small changes can really help maintain a good level of security while in port and at sea. To maintain vessel security while in port it is highly advised that the crew secure all gear that remains on deck while unattended and keep valuables locked away or, if possible, removed from the vessel entirely. This includes securing any outboard engines and personal watercraft onboard. Removing and securing items may initially deter opportunistic thieves, but securing all hatches and doors to the vessel is also important, especially when the vessel is unattended and at night if remaining on board.
During the night consider leaving a light on the deck or in a cabin as a further visual deterrent to potential thieves. In some instances, the installation of an alarm system may be more suitable; these can be particularly effective in busy marinas where the line of sight may be impaired.
Where multiple sets of keys are held, always try to keep keys for the vessel and the engine separate.
Further to this, remaining in tune with regional current affairs is a prudent way of staying ahead of the curve on places to avoid during your visit, ensuring there are no nasty surprises once you step ashore.
As tensions in the region continue to grow, the need for extra vigilance and attention to security are crucial, at sea and ashore. Be aware of the potential for danger and ensure you have the ability to react to any emergency should the situation arise.
None of the advice mentioned here should detract from the pleasure of yacht ownership or charter, but crew should be advised on how to conduct themselves while ashore so they don’t inadvertently present themselves as a target or cause offence that could easily be avoided with some basic travel awareness.