Indian Ocean HRA Overview
Continued reported incidents reflect that the HRA remains a threat in regards to piracy activity in the region. Recent efforts to improve the security environment will reduce the impact of Somali piracy, however, continuing deterioration of onshore conditions in Somalia and Yemen such as famine, terrorist groups, a weak central government and poor governance of coastal areas continue to influence piracy in the region. Pirate financiers capitalise on the chaos offering opportunities to local people. Piracy groups onshore Somalia still bear the motivation to try and carry out attacks and still with capability to target merchant vessels. Increasingly, vessels in the HRA are subjected to incidents that appear to be co-ordinated small boat piracy approaches however they choose not to ultimately attack. These incidents are then difficult to classify as attempted piracy or simply as regional patterns of life in the area. However, as seen in recent months there have been numerous attacks and attempted boarding’s ranging from incidents in the Somali Basin, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and the Southern Red Sea. The increased presence of naval patrols and armed security on board vessels act as a deterrent to the threat of piracy, however those vessels transiting in the area without the presence of armed security remain a significant risk.
Reported Incidents HRA
No incidents to report (UKMTO)
Violence continues in the port city of Aden following a series of recent VBIED attacks as highlighted on 13th March when at least 4 people were killed after a VBIED targeted a military kitchen, IS have claimed responsibility for the attack confirming their presence in the region. Aden is currently the site of deep tensions between forces loyal to President Hadi, local Southern Resistance fighters, Salafist militias and UAE backed forces. These tensions are further coupled with the presence of Al Qaeda and IS affiliated groups in the region.
Journey through the ‘Gate of Tears’: The Bab el Mandeb Strait known as the ‘Gate of Tears’ is a name derived from the long history of the deaths of many whilst trying to make the crossing from Yemen. Nearly 40,000 Yemeni people have arrived in Djibouti fleeing the Yemeni conflict. The journey comes with risks with at least 500 deaths reported between the start of the war in Yemen to February 2018. The risk of coming under coalition fire has also increased which is highlighted by an attack on a boat carrying more than 150 people including children in March 2017. Further to this, at least 42 people were killed when a US-built Apache helicopter opened fire on a boat departing from Yemen’s western city of Hudaydah in the same month.
Ongoing Threat of Violence/Terrorism at Sea off the Coast of Yemen
- Yemen’s civil war has created an environment mirroring Somalia’s lawlessness. The ongoing conflict in Yemen demonstrates how poor security on land has led to violence spilling out into the maritime domain. Houthi rebels continue to control a large amount of Yemen’s red sea coastline.
- Suspicious approaches continue in the Bab el Mandeb Strait and Gulf of Aden.
- In relation to coalition forces advancing towards the Red Sea port city of Hudaydah, currently under Houthi rebel control, increases the risk to shipping in the region. In the past Houthi rebels have repeatedly threatened to attack merchant vessels in the region should coalition forces attempt to re-take Hudaydah port. If coalition forces seized Hudaydah it could be argued this would be a turning point in the civil war as the Houthi rebels would lose their main source of finance through the port in which illegal arms are smuggled.
- Unconfirmed reports surfaced on the 7th January 2018 stating that the Saudi coalition had destroyed at least one Houthi vessel near Hudaydah port after an alleged attack occurred against a Saudi oil tanker. The vessel was reported to be loaded with explosives and controlled remotely.
- The threat of terrorism at sea off the coast of Yemen remains by rebel groups and terrorist organisations such as AQAP remains. Such is highlighted by attacks against the LNG Tanker Galacia Spirit in October 2016 and the MT Muskie a product tanker in May 2017. Both involved the use of explosive laden skiffs, as an attempt to cause major devastation in the critical international shipping passage of the Bab-el-Mandeb.
- It continues to be a persistent threat that merchant vessels may be the subject of a miscalculated attack or as has been suggested recently, possibly threats of a calculated attack.
Berbera port – Somalia bans Dubai ports operator: MPs in Somalia have voted to declare a contract with UAE DP Ports null and void endangering plans to develop the port in the Horn of Africa. DP World wants to enlarge the port of Berbera in the state of Somaliland however Somalia’s parliament has voted against the agreement. The President of Somaliland has argued the state has a right to enter into such agreements.
Africa Union Mission to Somalia key to stability: It has been reported that the UN-backed AMISOM may withdraw from Somalia despite the fact that the threat from al Shabaab militant group remains grave. AMISOM performance has been viewed as mixed however it is argued that Somalia is in no position to deal with the current security situation on its own.
Al Shabaab has been increasingly active in Somalia in recent months. The militant group has been battling the Somali Federal Government (SFG) in an effort to govern Somalia. Since 2013, al Shabaab pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda attracting the United States to execute raids and airstrikes against the group. However increased US airstrikes have not enabled African Union Mission (AMISOM) and Somali security forces to gain enough momentum against the terrorist group, al Shabaab has not suffered any great loss of territory or significant casualties from the airstrikes. Al Shabaab continues to maintain strongholds in southern and central Somalia and continue to carry out attacks against military and civilian targets. Somalia is a country whereby tribal loyalties are stronger than national ties. The SFG and Somali forces lack legitimacy outside of Mogadishu. Further to this, al Shabaab further exemplifies the issue of famine, terrorism and corruption making the prospect of stability in Somalia in the near future bleak. Al Shabaab is likely to maintain its present operational tempo in 2018 and further expand its territory in central and southern Somalia.
In 2017 between March and May, five vessels were hijacked in Somali waters, whilst this was reported by many to be a resurgence of Somali piracy, it can be assessed as more likely to be a result of a permissive environment during the inter-monsoon period allowing skiffs and PAGS to operate with ease. Until the deep rooted issue of piracy in Somalia are resolved, piracy will continue to be a threat. 2017 saw the worst drought Somalia has seen in 40 years, this coupled with the struggling government and extreme militant violence has brought 6.7 million people into crisis. Pirate financiers capitalise on the chaos offering opportunities to local people. Pirate groups are known to operate in the coastal regions of Puntland, namely Eyl and further south in the Galmudug region, namely Hobyo. It is needless to say, as the increased instability in Somalia continues, it will serve as a permissive environment for piracy operations with an ongoing threat to shipping in the region.