Weekly Maritime Security Report

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Yemen: Houthis threaten attacks against warships, oil tankers

12 November

Houthi rebels said they could attack warships and oil tankers from enemy countries to retaliate against the closure of Yemeni ports by the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis’ official media outlet al-Masirah quoted a commander as saying.

PGI Analysis: Since the announcement, the Saudi-led coalition have announced they will re-open the key ports of Aden, Mocha and Mukalla, although the threat of such attacks remains as suspected Houthi militants have targeted commercial vessels off Yemen since the conflict commenced. The coalition closed access to Yemeni ports two days after Saudi Arabia intercepted a Houthi-claimed missile fired from Yemen towards Riyadh airport on 4 November. The coalition said the move was necessary to stop arms transfers from Iran to the Houthis as tensions over the alleged supply of Iranian arms to Houthis have escalated in recent weeks.

Yemen: Saudi coalition foils alleged Houthi sea mine plot against shipping lines

11 November

The Saudi-led military coalition has announced that a Houthi plot against international shipping lines has been thwarted. The plotters were targeted on the Yemeni island of Bawadi, from where they were allegedly planning to launch the attack. The plot included booby-trapped vessels and divers to plant naval mines.

PGI Analysis: The threat to commercial vessels transiting the waters off Yemen has increased significantly since the onset of the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels in 2015. Houthi militants have previously laid mines at entrances to Red Sea ports, although the recent report indicates Houthis are beginning to attempt more indiscriminate attacks against shipping, escalating the threat to commercial vessels transiting the region. As well as the introduction of sea mines off Yemen, the civil conflict has seen armed attackers firing rocket-propelled grenades at commercial vessels and an increase in suspicious activity in the area. This underscores the variety of threats the conflict poses to shipping in the region.



Nigeria: Pirates release six crew kidnapped off Bonny Island

12 November

German shipping group Peter Doehle Schiffahrts-KG confirmed that six crew members abducted near the port of Onne on 21 October had been released. It was not confirmed whether ransoms had been paid to secure their release, although the victims were said to be in good health.

PGI Analysis: Armed pirates often target vessels off the restive Niger Delta region in kidnap for ransom attacks, and reports of such attacks have increased in recent weeks, prompting the US to issue an alert for the region. The fact the crew were released after a matter of weeks and were unharmed strongly indicates that a ransom was paid to secure their release, although it is typical for companies not to disclose such information. Attackers often target foreign nationals who are perceived to solicit higher ransoms. Although the nationalities of the crew members have not been confirmed, one is reportedly Ukrainian, four are Filipino and the other is from Hungary. 

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Chile: Port workers strike in pensions dispute

7 November

Port workers in Chile launched a strike over pensions that led to the shutdown of at least 18 terminals in the country, including Iquique, Antofagasta, Caldera, Chañaral, Tocopilla, Huasco, Lirquén, Penco, Coronel, San Vicente, Talcahuano, Huachipato, Corral, Valdivia, Calbuco, Puerto Montt, Chacabuco and Punta Arenas. There were no reports of violence during the industrial action.

Italy: Venice to ban large cruise ships from Grand Canal

8 November

The Italian government has decided to ban cruise ships larger than 100,000 tonnes from Venice’s Grand Canal. Under the new legislation, large vessels will be diverted to Marghera, a neighbouring industrial town. However, according to Italy’s transport minister, it will take four years before the port and the new route are ready. The decision was taken following lobbying from activists who believe these vessels to be a conservation risk. Venice residents have protested against high numbers of tourists, including in September 2016 when people in small boats tried to stop a cruise ship from docking.

Philippines: Tokyo to provide four coast guard radar stations to fight Sulu Sea piracy

10 November

Japan will provide four coast guard radar stations on islands in the Sulu and Celebes Seas in a bid to fight maritime piracy conducted by Islamist insurgents, according to sources quoted by Reuters. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are expected to sign an agreement in Manila next week that would finance the radar facilities and provide training to local coast guard personnel. Japan is funding the move because of the importance of the Sulu and Celebes Seas as a waterway for shipments coming and going from Japanese ports. Some 30 piracy incidents were recorded in the first half of 2017 in the seas, three of which were crew abductions. Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), which is largely responsible for the piracy, has escalated maritime kidnappings since March 2016 in a bid to raise funds through ransoms.

Philippines: Manila, Beijing to draft protocols to avoid maritime accidents

8 November

The Philippines and China have agreed to draft military protocols to avoid maritime “miscalculations” amid ongoing bilateral tensions over the disputed South China Sea, according to Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana. The protocols come after a brief stand-off between the countries in August, when Chinese navy ships were sent to disrupt the Philippines’ construction of makeshift shelters on a sand bar 4 km off Thitu island in the Spratlys. China has engaged in extensive island-building in the Spratlys since 2012, increasing tensions with the Philippines and other claimants. This has frequently prompted stand-offs between Philippine naval forces and fishermen and Chinese coast guard vessels.

Sri Lanka: National fuel shortage reaches fifth day

7 November

A national fuel shortage in Sri Lanka reached a fifth day on 7 November as tens of thousands of motorists were reported forming long lines at gasoline stations across the country. State oil retailer Ceylon Petroleum Corp. has been providing limited fuel supplies despite a delayed fuel shipment and the rejection of another shipment after the fuel was found to be sub-standard. The next shipment of gasoline was to arrive in Sri Lanka late on 8 November, but supplies across the country were not expected to normalise until 10 November.

Vietnam: Trump offers to mediate South China Sea dispute

12 November

US President Donald Trump has said he is prepared to mediate the South China Sea territorial disputes between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other regional claimants, during a speech at the end of his visit to Vietnam. Trump told reporters at a meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang that China’s position in the South China Sea dispute was a problem, but did not directly criticise Beijing. Tensions have escalated between China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines in recent years over Beijing’s island-building and militarisation of atolls and reefs in the disputed waters. The US has traditionally sided with the Philippines and Vietnam, and conducts frequent “freedom of navigation” naval operations that are criticised by China.

Yemen: Coalition to reopen some ports

13 November

The Saudi-backed coalition is to begin reopening Yemen’s airport and seaports, the Saudi mission at the UN said in a statement. According to the statement, the coalition will first reopen the seaports of Aden, Mocha and Mukalla. These seaports, which are all located in areas under the control of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government, are to reopen within 24 hours. The mission said it would hold talks with the UN to allow the reopening of other ports located in rebel-held or disputed territories, while preventing arms smuggling. On 6 November, the coalition closed off all air, sea and land access to Yemen, saying it was needed to stop arms transfers from Iran to the Houthis. The move came two days after Saudi Arabia intercepted a missile fired towards Riyadh airport, which it blamed on Houthi rebels.

Yemen: UN orders vessel to leave Hodeidah

6 November

Yemeni media reported that the UN had ordered vessels to leave the Houthi-held Red Sea port of Hodeidah. The order was issued to ensure the safety of vessels, according to press reports. The order came as Saudi-led coalition officials closed Yemen’s air, sea and land borders in response to a failed 4 November ballistic missile attack on Riyadh. Two UN aid flights were reportedly prevented from reaching Yemen despite assurances that the coalition order would not affect humanitarian assistance. UN officials said that they were in talks with the coalition over the issue.

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