UK/Straits of Hormuz: British Royal Navy increase escort capability for British shipping in Straits of Hormuz
The British Royal Navy will increase the complement of Royal Navy vessels to escort British-flagged commercial ships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz amid escalating tensions in the region. The Royal Navy previously escorted British ships in the area between July and November 2019, after the seizure of a British vessel by Iran. The decision comes following the increase in tensions between Iran and the US (and her allies).
Analysis: Following the response by Iran to the US airstrike killing a senior Iranian General, tensions in the Straits of Hormuz will increase significantly with the risk of sympathetic, proxy or possibly Iranian attacks and seizures of shipping in the area significantly increased.
Oman: Russian vessel approaches a US destroyer in North Arabian Sea
A Russian military vessel approached a US navy destroyer in the North Arabian Sea, coming dangerously close to the ship, according to a statement from US naval officials. The Russian vessel altered course after requests from the US vessel, according to officials. The Russian Ministry of Defence denied the report, claiming that the US vessel had crossed its path and accusing the US of violating maritime security norms. The exact location of the incident was not immediately confirmed.
Singapore: Authorities arrest 2 Indonesians, Malaysian for illegally entering city-state
Two Indonesians and a Malaysian national have been arrested by the Police Coast Guard for entering Singapore illegally on a boat. Authorities detected an unnumbered fibreglass boat off Eastern Buoy, Singapore with the aid of surveillance equipment at about 2100 hrs local time. Those who overstay or enter Singapore illegally can be jailed for up to six months and caned a minimum of three strokes.
Analysis: Vigilance amongst Singapore law enforcement is high and penalties can be severe. Visitors (including seafarers) to Singapore should be especially careful to abide by local laws and customs.
Vietnam: Customs seize 1,000 metres of timber in Saigon Port
Customs officers in Ho Chi Minh City seized over 1,000 metres of timber illegally imported into Saigon port with fake declarations from an unspecified African country. The shipment reportedly passed through several countries before arriving in Vietnam in an attempt to hide its origin. Authorities have launched an investigation into the shipment. The wood is suspected to have come from the African kino tree, an endangered species of tree native to West Africa, which is perceived to have various medical properties.
Select Maritime News
Japan: Tokyo orders defence forces to guard ships in the Middle East
Defence Minister Taro Kono ordered the deployment of a warship and two P-3C patrol planes to the Middle East to protect ships bringing goods to Japan. The patrol planes will reportedly start operations from 20 January. Kono was required to issue a special order for the deployment of the forces to allow them to use weapons to protect ships in danger. This comes as tensions in the Middle East escalated after the US killed Iran’s elite Quds Force commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Baghdad on 3 January.
Analysis: Concern remains high in the Gulf following tit-for-tat military strikes by the US and Iran. Whilst it is assessed that Iran are unlikely to affect trade routes through the Straits of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf region, lone actors’ actions are more difficult to predict. Increased military presences by interested parties adds additional security but does little to reduce tension.
Gulf Region:International maritime protection plans
US Naval deployments include the Carrier Strike Group 72 in (USS Abraham Lincoln) with the US 5th Fleet in The Gulf in support of the US-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC – Op SENTINEL) to protect shipping in the region. CSG 72 and 75 are conducting handover of responsibilities with the flag-ship of CSG 72 (USS Abraham Lincoln) handing over to CSG 75 (USS Harry S Truman). There is a similar European initiative planned for early 2020 which will coordinate with IMSC: mounted out of France’s naval base in Abu Dhabi the mission is planned to involve approximately 10 nations including the UK (who are involved in the IMSC now). Believing there is a heightened risk of security incidents in the Straits of Hormuz, the UK Dept for Transport said the aim of the missions is to ensure “UK-flagged ships will soon be able to transit the Strait of Hormuz without close Royal Naval accompaniment…”
Motherships confirmed as piracy operational bases in Gulf of Guinea
The pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Guinea are now the world’s most dangerous for international shipping, with at least nine vessels attacked and 89 crew hijacked for ransom so far in 2019. At least two piracy groups working in the Gulf of Guinea are responsible for the recent spate of attacks on tankers and kidnapping of crew. The pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Guinea are now the world’s most dangerous for international shipping, with at least nine vessels attacked and 89 crew hijacked for ransom in 2019. The pirates are operating from mothership vessels on the peripheries of the EEZ, using it as cover from Nigerian security forces. These vessels often disable their auto-identification systems to conceal them during attacks.
Australia: Hundreds of DP World port workers strike at Fremantle port
Around 200 dock workers affiliated to the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) held a 24-hour strike against DP World Australia in protest at negotiations over a new workplace agreement. The union has also threatened to stage further actions, such as rolling work stoppages among other such work bans. Negotiations between the MUA and DP World Australia over a new workplace agreement have been ongoing for 15 months.
Kuwait: Coastguard seize 187kg of narcotics offshore
The coastguard seized 187 kg of unspecified narcotics after boarding a vessel which had entered a restricted zone off Kuwait City, reported national media. The narcotics were concealed in bags hidden under false panels in the side of the boat. Narcotics smuggling in Kuwait has increased over the past year, with most attempts targeting Kuwait International Airport.
Brazil: Authorities seize 40kg of cocaine at Manaus port
Authorities seized 40 kg of cocaine hidden on a small boat at Manaus port. Police found the narcotics after receiving an anonymous tip off regarding the location of large volumes of narcotics. Authorities arrested one Colombian national at the scene. Large-scale drug seizures are intermittently reported at Manaus port.
Greece: 12 die in capsize off Paxos
At lease twelve people died when the vessel they were travelling in capsized southwest of Paxos. Emergency services deployed to attempt to locate survivors. Migrants crossing attempts to Greece are common. The vessels used can be unseaworthy, meaning they regularly capsize leading to tens of deaths.
Turkey: Vessel collision leaves 3 missing in Black Sea
A collision between a Russian flagged tanker and a Turkish fishing vessel off Istanbul caused the fishing boat to sink, leaving three fishermen missing. The three missing are all Turkish citizens, according to the Istanbul governor’s office. Three other fishermen were rescued from the water. Authorities believe fog may have contributed to the accident as earlier heavy fog prompted the temporary closure of the Bosphorus strait.
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