Yacht Security: Mediterranean Sea 2018- 2019

Yacht Security: Mediterranean Sea 2018- 2019

Wayne Britton 2

This maritime security report provides a summary of incidents that occurred in the Mediterranean Sea between June 2018 and May 2019, as well as risks that may affect yachts operating in the region. This assessment is based on relevant information currently available to Securewest International at the date of issue and represents our best judgment concerning the operational environment.  

Mediterranean Sea

Between 1 June 2018 - 29 May 2019, the Securewest International Global Response Centre (GRC) recorded a total of 32 incidents in the Mediterranean Sea, representing a 50% reduction in incidents compared to the previous year in the same period. Analysing incidents that directly involve yachts, figures remain consistent with only three incidents in the current reporting period.

While information sharing and reporting have improved in the maritime industry in recent years, it is estimated that many incidents still go unreported. This is particularly true of regions that remain relatively stable from a security standpoint.

Figure 1: Incidents recorded between 01-JUN-18 to 29-MAY-19

Security incidents Med 2019

Produced by Securewest International Global Information System

Threat Types May 2019

All 32 recorded incidents fall into one of the following categories: Migrant/Refugee, Drugs interdiction, Robbery and Hijacking incidents.

Figure 2: Incident by category from Securewest International Global Information System

Securewest Med 18 19 Incident by category

The number of security incidents has reduced drastically in recent years as cooperation between countries in the Mediterranean improves.

Although the number of migrants attempting to make the crossing via the three main routes has reduced, the relative number of fatalities has risen exponentially. This is attributed to migrants now risking longer and more dangerous routes since previously favoured routes to Turkey and Greece have become less successful due to bi-lateral cooperation between the EU and Turkey.

There were no recorded incidents that involved migrants attempting to impede yachts during the reporting period, however there are two separate incidents (See table 1) that demonstrate the potential risks of interacting when encountering refugees attempting to cross.

Examples of Security Incidents


Special forces seized a tanker after it was hijacked by migrants who had been rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Authorities in Italy and Malta said the migrants had taken control of the Libya-bound ship and forced the crew to sail towards Europe.

08-November 2018 - MIGRANT/ REFUGEE

Migrants were rescued by a cargo ship near the Port of Misurata, Libya, exact position unknown. Upon arrival to Port of Misurata, the migrants refused to leave the vessel and took the crew hostage.

In both instances no serious harm came to crew, however, the sheer desperation on the part of these individuals attempting to cross could very easily manifest itself through violence, with smaller crafts far more likely to encounter a situation where the likelihood becoming overburdened or hijacked rises significantly.

Transport of Illicit Drugs

The Mediterranean Sea is also the gateway and transit point for the illicit drugs trade entering the EU from various continents. During the same reporting period, there were six incidents in which major drug shipments were interdicted at sea or upon arrival at ports within the Mediterranean. This is down from 23 recorded cases in the previous reporting period. This decline is most likely linked to the increased security presence in the Mediterranean due to the ongoing migrant crisis in which both coastguard and naval patrols have been stepped up to curb the flow of successful crossings to the EU.

There was one recorded incident that involved the use of a luxury yacht for the illegal transportation of drugs. Many of the intercepted vessels are primarily concentrated in the vicinity of the Gibraltar Strait and the coastlines in the far west of the Mediterranean Basin.

These illegal shipments generally originate from the shores of Morocco and capitalize on the relatively short transit to the shores of south western Europe. Another common area of increased activity for trafficking is from the Turkish coastline, this being a waypoint for drugs shipments originating from central Asia, primarily Afghanistan.

Very little of the illegal drug trade operating in the Mediterranean will directly affect the day to day leisure activities of travellers. However, there are instances in which personnel could unknowingly fall victim to traffickers at vulnerable points in their journey.

Antibes generic boat shot

Security Incidents Involving Yachts

There is always a chance of higher impact incidents occurring from time to time. The Mediterranean is no exception, although incidents of a more serious nature rarely occur. During the reporting period there were two incidents, one robbery and one hijacking. Both are assessed to be low impact events due to the minimal effect on the victims involved, but still worthy of note as they both targeted yachts.

Each of the two incidents occurred while vessels were at berth and vacant. Although incidents such as this remain infrequent, measures and protocols to deter criminal activity while in the assumed safety of a port are still required. 

30-September 2018 - ROBBERY

A berthed catamaran was robbed in Puerto Noray, Melilla. One perpetrator boarded the yacht, stole unsecured gear on the upper deck and escaped. Another boarding occurred the following night but all gear had been secured and nothing was stolen.

19-August 2018 -  DRUGS INTERDICTION

The luxury yacht HCH-X was intercepted by a Spanish Customs patrol boat, 15 nm west of Ibiza in the Balearic Islands, on a suspicion of drugs trafficking. Approximately 300 kilos of cocaine valued at 18 million Euros were found, divided into two parts of 150 kilos and hidden inside the yacht’s interior and the captain’s cabin. The yacht's five crew were arrested, four of them Dutch, and one German, and the yacht was taken to Palma de Mallorca. We understand bales containing the cocaine were picked up by the yacht after they had been dropped by a cargo ship.

04-June 2018 - HIJACKING

A yacht was hijacked in Portofino Port, Italy, exact position unknown. A 50-year old English woman boarded the yacht owned by a local boat rental company. The perpetrator found the keys to start the yacht and was on the way out of the marina when a harbour worker managed to jump aboard, grabbed the keys from the ignition and steered the vessel back to its mooring. The port authority and the local police were notified and the attacker was arrested.

Security Risk Mitigation & Recommendations

Transiting the Mediterranean Sea, captains and crew members are always advised to be vigilant while underway and at berth. Although many voyages will pass by without trouble, the likelihood of encountering a security-related incident endures. Below is a list of additional measures and recommendations that will help ensure that crew members are prepared for all eventualities, as well as region specific threats that they may encounter in the Mediterranean.

Vessel security

It is highly advised that crew secure all gear that remains on deck while unattended and keep valuables locked away or removed from the vessel entirely. This includes securing of any outboard engines and personal craft that may be carried onboard. Although removing and securing items may serve to initially deter opportunistic thieves, the securing of all hatches and doors to the vessel is also important; this is especially the case when the vessel is unattended and while crew are asleep at night if remaining onboard.

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 security’s 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.

The above security measures will also prevent criminal elements from accessing a vessel to conceal illegal drugs to be retrieved at a different location. Before departing port,  crew should also carry out a search of any large voids/compartments within the vessel and, in the event that suspicious packages are found, avoid touching anything, disembark the vessel and notify port security immediately.

While ashore, crew should refrain from broadcasting details of the vessel and its travel plans in busy public places.

If the yacht's crew encounter any suspicious activity while ashore or underway, this should be reported to the captain who can log it and inform the relevant authorities where necessary.

We also refer you to recent articles on Situational Awareness Onboard and Ashore and Personal Safety Ashore.

Katie 4 SA2

Migrants & Refugees

Legal obligations are set out in the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention Chapter V, Regulation 33. This states that:

The Master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found.

If the ship receiving the distress alert is unable or, in the special circumstances of the case, considers it unreasonable or unnecessary to proceed to their assistance, the master must enter in the log-book the reason for failing to proceed to the assistance of the persons in distress, taking into account the recommendation of the [International Maritime] Organisation, to inform the appropriate search and rescue service accordingly.

Although there is a legal obligation for yachts to provide assistance under the above regulations, captains need first to assess whether providing assistance in the event of the above situation would endanger the lives of the vessel's crew in doing so. It is most unlikely that a small yacht would be able to provide much in the way of assistance given the numbers of refugees involved, with potential to overwhelm the yacht if approached.

Further to this, since certain countries in the Mediterranean have stopped accepting refugees in their ports, if refugees were picked up and ferried to the nearest port, you may well experience difficulties from authorities when trying to disembark.

If a yacht does encounter migrants/refugees while underway, the following advice and guidance is given:

• Exercise extreme caution and maintain a substantial buffer; enough to allow for defensive manoeuvres should the situation dictate.

• Inform the relevant Search and Rescue (SAR) service immediately.

• When possible, log information about the incident and reasons for not providing assistance.

Piracy in the Mediterranean

Although the threat from piracy is insignificant in the Mediterranean Sea, we highly recommend reviewing the following:

Global Counter-Piracy Guidance for Companies, Masters and Seafarers.

Securewest International - Maritime Risk Management Specialists

This analysis is a service of Securewest International’s Intelligence Section. Reports are updated as needed and provided to clients when requested.

Securewest provides integrated risk management services, high-risk asset protection, travel risk management, medical assistance, ship to shore support and monitoring, security training (and eLearning), risk consultancy and advisory services.

For further information on the maritime security services we provide:
Email Wayne Britton or call: Cell +44 (0)7825 557 502; Office: +44 (0)1548 856001
Securewest International Global Response Centre (GRC): +44 (0) 2038 726 911 




Approach: An incident where weapons are trained on the vessel or pirate paraphernalia such as weapons, ladders, are observed and the intention to conduct an attack is clear.

Attack: An incident where weapons are discharged by pirates or pirate paraphernalia such as a ladder, grappling hook, make contact with the vessel.

Boarding: Unauthorized boarding of a vessel by persons not part of its complement without successfully taking control of the vessel.

General Security Warning: Incidents which do not fit in the other categories, but enhance the situational awareness, e.g. flag state advisories or an attack on a non- commercial vessel such as a warship.

Hijacking: Unauthorized seizure and retention of a vessel by persons not part of its complement.

Kidnapping: Unauthorized forcible removal of persons belonging to the vessel from it.

Migrant and Refugee Incident: This could involve Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, or information about a boat capsizing and people drowning, or an attack on the group.

Pirate Attack Group: Any group consisting of a mothership or mothership/whaler, accompanied by at least one attack skiff, or one to two skiffs operating independently.

Robbery: Theft from a vessel or from persons aboard the vessel.

Suspicious Approach: All other unexplained activity in close proximity by an unknown vessel.

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