US maritime body warns of attacks in Sea of Oman

(MENAFN – Muscat Daily) The US Department of Transport Maritime Administration (MARAD) has warned of potential attacks on shipping in regional waters, including the Sea of Oman, North Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Bab el Mandeb Strait.

In a warning issued on March 13, MARAD advised US flag operators with ships in the area to forward the advisory to their vessels, following what it termed elevated regional tensions’ increasing the risk of maritime attacks by extremist elements. Vessels at anchor, or operating in areas that restrict movement have been warned to be especially vigilant, with all ships urged to report suspicious activity.

An official at a maritime security monitoring centre, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that it is a concern’ that the recent MARAD update of a potential threat in regional waters had not been given greater attention by international authorities. In addition, recently announced instances of piracy appear to have been retracted by authorities later on, the official said.

”In the past week there have been reports of suspected piracy-related activities, from suspicious activity, to approaches and even an attack on a merchant vessel heading from Djibouti to Oman being thwarted by an Italian patrol vessel. Now consider that a regional reporting authority stated that they had contacted each vessel alleged to have been involved in possible pirate approaches heard over VHF radio, only to be told that none of them had been attacked and that it was several sets of dhows and skiffs engaged in fishing activity in the area’.”

The source added, ”The matter of incidents going unreported cannot be lightly dismissed. There are many factors to why a ship’s master may decide not to report an incident particularly if it may invite further questions and report-writing, or they do not wish to bring themselves to any official attention should something untoward occur, or indeed simply to avoid awkward questions and not wishing to upset the corporate applecart.

”Suffice to say, something is going on in the region, the cognitive dissonance of the usually coordinated authorities is a reason for concern. All military, governmental and industry stakeholders agree greater coordination and information sharing is vital to combat piracy; mixed messages only work to confuse and potentially create greater tension.”

A similar warning had been issued previously by MARAD, in July 2012, also warning of possible attacks at sea by extremists.

Muscat Daily couldn’t get a comment from MARAD on what specific threat the warning relates to during the time of going to [press].


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