Indian Ocean HRA Overview
Over the past week or so a tropical cyclone hit the Gulf of Aden creating hazardous sea conditions, high wind speeds and rainfall. Areas such as Somaliland, the Yemeni island of Socotra and areas of southern Yemen and Oman were badly affected by severe flooding after being hit by a year’s worth of rain in only a few days. Such extreme weather conditions caused port closures such as Salalah in Oman. The cyclone has been estimated to have effected over 160,000 people whilst killing dozens. Such weather in the area has not been conducive with small boat operations and the risk of piracy could be seen to be reduced during this period. Despite this, pirate groups continue to retain ability to organise and implement attacks against ships transiting in the region.
Reported Incidents HRA
Incident details: At 1205UTC on the 30th May 2018, an MV reported being approached by up to 6 skiffs in position 01-38.47N 044-41.67E (just south of Mogadishu). Vessel and crew are safe. Vessels transiting the area are advised to exercise extreme caution. Source: Reported to UKMTO via telephone. This incident was not classified as a Maritime Security Event and has not been verified by the UKMTO. This information is provided to inform maritime situational awareness for mariners operating in the region.
Intelligence comments: In light of this incident, it is highly unlikely to be attributed to piracy activity given the proximity to the shore and it is assessed to be regional activity.
Hodeidah Offensive: It has been reported this week that coalition forces are less than 12 miles away from the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah which has been under Houthi rebel control since 2015. When Hodeidah comes under attack the Houthi rebels have vowed to give the coalition ‘hell on hell’. The cost of the offensive on Hodeidah, with a population of over 400,000 people, could be disastrous. Hodeidah port currently handles over 80% of Yemen’s imports including food and aid supplies which are vital for Yemeni’s across the whole country. Concerns have been raised over how the conflict could leave the port damaged and inoperable sending millions into famine. If the coalition retake Hodeidah this could be a turning point in the war in Yemen, leading to a possible opportunity in retaking the Capital, Sanaa.
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 as Houthi rebels continue to control a large amount of Yemen’s red sea coastline.
- On the 3rd April 2018, Houthi rebels conducted a missile attack near Hudaydah against the Abqaiq, a Saudi tanker. There is no indication that the Houthi rebels intend to attack non-Saudi vessels, however Hudaydah port continues to be used as a launchpad for Houthi rebel attacks and arms smuggling. Attacks of this nature by the Houthi rebels in the maritime and land domain, are often conducted in response to the Saudi coalition actions in the Yemeni conflict.
- Ongoing reporting indicates that coalition forces are continuing to make advances towards Hudaydah which is currently under Houthi rebel control. As the advances towards Hudaydah continue this in turn increases the likelihood of Houthi rebels responding with further attacks against Saudi targets on land and sea, increasing 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.
- The continued proliferation of weapons in Yemen increases the possibility that rebel and other groups may seek to conduct an attack against shipping using WBIED’s.
EU NAVFOR delivers piracy threat assessment at the launch of the 2017 OBP Report: EU NAVFOR lies at the centre of a complex network of organisations and partnerships who work together to ensure piracy remains repressed off the Somali coast. EU NAVFOR personnel presented their assessment and military analysis of the piracy threat that exists off the Horn of Africa, but also outlined other threat areas that have emerged and emphasised the need for vigilance and adherence to industry agreed protection measures that can help protect seafarers. The 2017 OBP report looks at the effects of piracy and criminal activity across the world and highlights the economic and human cost to world trade. In summary, the report states that the annual cost of Somali piracy shrank slightly last year from $1.7 to $1.4bn. The estimated naval costs fell from approximately $230 to $200M and some 1100 seafarers were in some way affected by maritime security events. (Source: All Africa)
Al Shabaab continue to be increasingly active in Somalia. 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 as al Shabaab has yet to have 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 which have hindered efforts to strengthen unity. Terrorist groups and clan divisions mean that 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 which leaves huge challenges facing Mogadishu meaning international efforts to stabilise the country will continue for years to come.
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. Somalia has the second-longest coastline in Africa which is largely unregulated. Pirate groups are known to operate in the coastal regions of Puntland namely Eyl and further south in Galmudug namely Hobyo. It is needless to say, as instability in Somalia continues, it will serve as a permissive environment for piracy operations with an ongoing threat to shipping in the region.