From pirates to suicide bombers: previous Gulf naval attacks

Four ships were “sabotaged” off the coast of Fujairah on Sunday, according to the UAE and Saudi governments. However, it is not the first time that the vessels have been targeted in the Gulf region.

Despite being one of the most important strategic waterways in the world – and one of the best defended – naval attacks are rare but not unheard of.

Here, we look back on some of the other incidents which have occurred in the region over recent decades.

The Japanese supertanker
When the M Star, a large Japanese oil tanker, was damaged as it passed the Strait of Hormuz in 2010, initial theories included that it had been hit by a freak wave.

However, it later emerged that home-made explosives had been the cause of a large dent in the vessel, which was carrying two million barrels of crude oil from Qatar to Japan. Traces were found on the hull by investigators.

A group with links to Al Qaeda, a battalion of Abdullah Azzam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the explosion, which injured one person. It said a suicide bomber had been responsible.

The American destroyer
In perhaps the most infamous naval attack in the region, the USS Cole was targeted by terrorists while it was refueling in Yemen’s Aden harbor in October 2000.

Suicide bombers attacked the ship in a small boat laden with explosives. A hole was ripped in the side of the Navy Destroyer, killing 17 US sailors and injuring 39.

It was attributed to Al Qaeda, and is now seen as a precursor to the September 11 attacks on New York, carried out by the same group and taking place less than a year later.

A militant convicted of plotting and taking part in the attack, Jamal al-Badawi, died in a targeted US air strike on January 1 this year on the east of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, Donald Trump, the US President, has said.

The Emirati fishing boat
Only last year,a fleet of Emirati fishing vessels was fired upon by suspected pirates while searching for tuna in the Gulf of Oman, according to boat crews.

A captain and crew showed photos and video footage of their engines riddled with bullets. The pirates “appeared out of nowhere” and started shooting, Yousef Baroun, a 52-year-old Emirati fisherman, told The National.

He described four pirates on a boat with no flag and said the guns they used appeared to be Kalashnikov AK-47-style assault rifles. He said he was not sure what nationality the men were.

The fleet was about 90 kilometres off the coast of Fujairah in international waters when the encounter took place.

There were also reports of pirate activity in the Gulf of Oman in 2011.

The French tanker
The 158,000 tonne Limburg supertanker was rocked by a huge explosion off the Yemeni Coast in 2002, killing one crew member and injuring 12.

It was attacked by a suicide bomber in a smaller boat, in an incident also attributed to Al Qaeda and was said to have “chilling similarities” to the USS Cole bombing.

In 2014, a Saudi man, Ahmed Al Darbi, pleaded guilty to five charges related to the bombing. He was being held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay at the time.

Prosecutors said Al Darbi had helped plan the bombing, including buying the boats involved in the attack. At the time of the attack he was already in US custody.



Joint War Committee extends risk area after attacks

The London insurance market’s Joint War Committee (JWC) has extended the high-risk area for shipping after the Fujiarah tanker attacks.

The body said the list now includes Oman, the UAE and the Persian Gulf west of longitude 58°E.

The committee also said claims from the attacks will be “significant.”

“The enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia continues to create tensions as the Saudis believe Iran is trying to control strategic waterways,” JWC added.

“The recent tightening of Iranian sanctions by the US administration will raise tension in Iran and cause difficulties for Asian buyers.”

Four tankers were damaged in the attack off Fujairah last week, with Iran fingered as a likely culprit despite denials.

JWC said there is very little information about the explosions and the circumstances and methods employed remain unclear.

“There is no doubt that considerable damage was done and there will be significant claims,” the committee added.

“The JWC has met to review the situation and in the light of further information, has updated the listed areas to reflect the perceived heightened risk across the region. The situation will be kept under close review.”

Norwegian insurers concluded that Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards were “highly likely” to have facilitated the attacks on the tankers.

Two US government sources said US officials believed Iran had encouraged Yemeni Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry out the attacks.

Source: TradeWinds


Houthi drone attacks in Saudi ‘show new level of sophistication’

Aerial attacks on oil pipeline deep inside Saudi Arabia suggest significant leap in Houthi drone capabilities.

Drone attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline west of Riyadh on Tuesday have revealed an apparent significant leap in the capabilities of the Ansar Allah fighting group, otherwise known as the Houthis.

The Aramco East-West pipeline, stretching across the country to the port and oil terminal at Yenbu, was damaged in two places as pumping stations were hit.

The attacks caused minor damage but alarmed an international community already rattled by the sharp downturn in relations between Iran and the United States.

Information on the attacks is scarce, posing more questions than providing answers.

Signs of sophistication

Drones have been increasingly used by the Houthis in operations against the Saudi-UAE-led coalition. In July 2018 a drone exploded at Abu Dhabi airportcausing only minor damage but sending a message to the UAE that its economic interests were not invulnerable.

In January 2019, a senior intelligence chief, along with several officers, were killed at the al-Anad air force base just outside Aden by a weaponised drone that exploded above the delegation.

In March the Houthis released video footage of a drone flying past Saudi’s al-Shuqaiq water treatment and power plant, 130km from the Yemeni border.

It was not attacked but the warning was clear, with water being a vulnerable resource and many Middle Eastern countries relying heavily on desalination plants.

How have Houthis achieved this?

Analysts are divided about the extent of the help given to the Houthis by Iran.

A UN report submitted to the UN Security Council in January 2018 found compelling evidence that locally produced drones had an almost identical build and capability as the Iranian Qasef-1 UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle.

This drone is GPS-guided to its target, often diving into the target to cause damage.

While the Houthis have leant heavily on Iranian help in the past, Houthi drones have increasingly used parts that are commercially available in the international market, with the conflict itself acting as a catalyst for design innovations.

Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of the International Interest periodical, is not surprised that drones are being used in increasing numbers.

“[The Houthis] claim they are creating their own drones, that they’ve learnt how to make them. Outside of the war of Yemen, for example in Iraq, we’ve also seen this among Kurdish forces. They too have been able to create their own drones and use them …

“So, it is not particularly strange that we find drones among the Houthis. Let us also not forget that they are backed logistically by the Iranians who continue to provide them with expertise on how to develop some of these weapons,” Hamdi added.

What is different about these drones?

This latest attack signifies a big jump in abilities as the drone flew more than 800km into Saudi Arabia to successfully attack its target.

The drone was guided using satellite technology, as beyond a certain range, drones need a satellite data link for information to be sent back to the pilot.

Satellites technically allow drones to be flown from halfway around the world, as many military drones are, but they also need a second pilot station with line-of-sight access to take off and land.

The is due to the delay in satellite communications – albeit minor – which causes delays that can be fatal for a drone coming in to land.

The Iranians and Houthis have no known communications satellites and would need to rely on commercially available satellite space.

All this means that imagery analysts, communications experts, uplink engineers, two-pilot crews, armourers and mechanics all need to work in unison for an attack to succeed.

This implies increasingly sophisticated levels of training.

Why did Saudi Arabia fail to detect them?

A slow, unstealthy aircraft was able to fly for several hours deep into Saudi Arabia, and was not detected and intercepted in a time of war.

This will ring alarm bells, as retired Jordanian air force general Mamour al-Nowar told Al Jazeera.

“Their air defence system completely failed to handle such attacks” and the Houthis now have the ability “to reach Riyadh and Abu Dhabi,” potentially paralysing the country “if they hit desalination water pumping stations or the [almost built] nuclear plant in Abu Dhabi”.

Why this target?

Analysts are divided on whether the pipeline attack and the earlier alleged sabotage attacks against the tankers off the coast of the Emirati port of Fujairah are linked in some way.

Oil and gas economist Cornelia Meyer is emphatic that a link is tangible: “Absolutely, and what that tells me is that it’s not just an isolated rebel group doing this, it’s a very well-orchestrated campaign.”

Hamdi is more cautious: “The circumstances of the sabotage attacks off Fujairah aren’t quite clear yet. The Houthis have announced that they are the ones responsible for the Riyadh attack but as far as I’m aware no one has claimed responsibility for the act on the tankers in Fujairah.”

It is also a graduated escalation, avoiding mass casualties and aiming at economic interests. While the damage was minimal, a warning was sent nevertheless.The pipeline is an interesting target for several reasons; it is on the same latitude as Riyadh, which means the Saudi capital is within range.

The pipeline itself was built during the Iran-Iraq war as an alternative to Saudi Arabia should the Strait of Hormuz be closed for any reason, as was the oil terminal at the Emirati port of Fujairah.

The message sent, according to military analyst Elias Farhat, is that “it is not safe” for either the UAE or Saudi Arabia “to bypass the Strait of Hormuz”.

Despite the minor damage in the attack, there is now increasing concern that, given the current tension, small acts of military violence could spark a regional conflict.




London’s insurance markets to discuss on changing UAE risk levels after sabotage act

As Reuters reports, London’s marine insurance market plans to meet on Thursday to discuss whether it is necessary to change the risk level for vessels in the Gulf after an attack on ships off the United Arab Emirates earlier this week. Yet, this move will increase insurance premiums.

Two days after the sabotage act against four vessels, armed drones attacked two of Saudi Aramco’s oil pumping stations and forced the state producer to briefly shut its East-West pipeline.

In light of the meeting between London’s insurance markets, Neil Roberts, head of marine underwriting at Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) commented

“The Joint War Committee will meet tomorrow to assess the situation in the Gulf. This is prudent as capital providers would expect underwriters to review their exposure in the light of recent developments.”

In the meantime, the UAE announced that they will remain calm and not blame anyone before analysing the situation.

Mr Roberts continued that there isn’t much information available concerning Sunday’s sabotage act.

“There is no decision yet on whether to change the listed areas of enhanced risk. There are a number of options, which include no change. Ships going into the Gulf already have to inform underwriters; the question is whether vessels within the Persian Gulf and operating there are additionally exposed.”

He added that such changes need up to seven days to come into force.

According to Reuters, the Joint War Committee, which comprises syndicate members from the LMA and representatives from the London insurance company market, normally meets every quarter to review areas it considers high risk for merchant vessels and prone to war, strikes, terrorism and related perils.



Iran’s Revolutionary Guards ‘highly likely’ to have attacked ships in Fujairah

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG) are “highly likely” to have had a role in sabotaging four tankers off Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates last Sunday, according to Reuters reports.

The hulls of tankers owned by interests in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Norway were damaged by explosives in the attack this week.

A confidential report from the Norwegian Shipowners’ Mutual War Risks Insurance Association (DNK), seen by Reuters, says the attack is likely to have been carried out by underwater drones.

The DNK believes the drones were carrying 30-50 kg of high-grade explosives to detonate on impact and were likely dispatched by a nearby surface vessel.

In its report, cited by Reuters, the DNK said its conclusions were based on the high likelihood that the IRG had previously supplied its allies in Yemen with similar drone boats.

Such vessels are capable of homing in on GPS navigational positions, Reuters reported.

Shrapnel found on the Norwegian tanker is similar to shrapnel from drone boats used off Yemen by the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, the DNK said.

The insurer believes the attacks were intended to send a message to the United States and its allies that Iran does not need to block the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt vessel traffic in the region, the newswire said.

Before the attack, Iran and the IRGC had recently threatened to use military force and were highly likely to choose “asymmetric measures with plausible deniability” against their stronger foe, Reuters said, quoting from the DNK report.

The damaged vessels are the Bahri-owned 299,000-dwt VLCC Amjad (built 2017); an 105,000-dwt aframax Al Marzoqah (built 1999), operated by Red Sea Marine Services of Dubai; plus the 47,000-dwt crude tanker Andrea Victory (built 2005), managed by Thome of Norway.

The UAE-flagged bunker vessel A.Michel also sustained damage to its engine room in the attack, according to reports.

The Norwegian Maritime Authority raised the security level for its ships following the attack.

However, tanker owners are unlikely to be the victims of a wider campaign of terror in the Arabian Gulf, UK security consultant Dryad Maritime has said.

Source: TradeWinds


Piracy and sea robbery see a 62% decline in Southeast Asia

During the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference in Asia, the Information Fusion Centre (IFC) focused on piracy and sea robbery incidents in the South East Asia, highlighting a 62% decline from 2015 to 2018.

Mainly, IFC is a Singapore-based maritime security information centre, consisting of 41 countries, including India, linking vessels and ocean monitoring.

Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence, Maliki Bin Osman, noted that 1,700 incidents were reported in Singapore.

“This is a tip of the iceberg, as there are more cases which go unreported, adding to the magnitude and complexity of the problem.”

… commented Mr Maliki.

He continued that the information provided by IFC concerning piracy attacks and incidents is more important than ever in addressing the risks and keeping the shipping industry alert.

Information sharing can bridge these information and time gaps, by providing actionable information to the correct parties, for operational responses, he said.

In addition, the IFC noted that there’s a 92% decline in piracy and robbery incidents in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. Whereas, from 2015 to 2018, the region has seen a 62% drop, as the attacks decreased from 200 to 76.

“There are many ‘unknown unknowns’ in the maritime environment such as unidentified vessels, unreported illegal activities, and smuggling routes. In fact, what happens in your immediate waters could invariably affect the security of mine.”

Mr Maliki noted.

He concluded that despite IFC’s effort on providing up-to-date information, the shipping industry should seek ways to stay relevant, keeping in mind the rapid technological development.



Eight Pirates Arrested After Tanker Hijacking off Togo

On Monday, the government of Togo announced that its forces had thwarted a maritime hijacking in progress in the Gulf of Guinea.

On Sunday night, eight armed pirates used a rented canoe to board the Togolese-flagged product tanker Djetona 1 at anchorage off the port of Lome, according to reports from the IMB ICC and the Togolese government. The attackers hijacked the vessel and took her crew hostage.

Shortly afterwards the Togo Navy received a call from the ship’s owners, who reported that their tanker had been attacked. The navy responded by dispatching its patrol boats to investigate. The tanker was intercepted 25 nm from the anchorage area and forced to return to Lome.

The crew were reported safe, and the suspects – two Togolese nationals and six Nigerians – were handed over to the authorities.

Fewer pirate attacks occur in Togo than in nearby Nigeria, but hijackings and kidnappings are a threat throughout the Gulf of Guinea region. In early March, a Romanian seafarers’ union reported that three Romanian nationals were kidnapped from the vessel Histria Ivory about 20 miles from Lome. The attackers fled with their victims and the Ivory’s remaining crew brought their vessel into port at Lome.

Source: The Maritime Executive


Saudi tanker attacks reveal dangerous geopolitical waters Holing of Saudi vessels, trade wars and the rise of nationalism spell trouble for shipping

The attack on four tankers in the Middle East Gulf is a grim reminder of the importance — and fragility — of oil shipments in the region. Up to 40% of the world’s crude moves through a nearby narrow waterway, the Strait of Hormuz.

After the attack, the price of Brent crude on global markets leapt 2% to nearly $72 per barrel, even as the US-China trade war escalated. Mystery deepens as tanker attack damage revealed.

Two Saudi tankers among those attacked off Fujairah.

The imposition of new tariffs and counter-tariffs by US President Donald Trump and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will likely depress trade volumes, cut oil use and push down commodity prices.

Opposing pressures
But those downward pressures were overridden by the holing of the 299,000-dwt VLCC Amjad (built 2017) and 105,000-dwt aframax Al Marzoqah (built 1999).

The Thome Ship Management-controlled, 47,210-dwt product tanker Andrea Victory (built 2005) and 6,700-dwt bunkering tanker A Michel (built 1998), which is registered in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, were also hit.

All four vessels were anchored or operating off the UAE port of Fujairah, and it looks like their hulls were struck by projectiles.

It is not yet clear who is to blame.

But it is not hard to speculate who might have been responsible, given the political tensions in the area. The most obvious candidate would be Iran. US officials told the Associated Press that an initial assessment points to Iran or its allies.

Equally, one could imagine the crime was committed by enemies of Tehran, who may want to discredit it and give someone an excuse to strike back.

Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the attacks as “dreadful” but Iranian leaders had warned recently that they might block the Strait of Hormuz.

“It is hard not to conclude that all of these bellicose words and actions against rivals or historic enemies by the US and others are partly connected to the rise of nationalism”
All this comes amid rising tension between the US and Iran.

It was almost a year ago that Trump first took the decision to scrap the nuclear deal drawn up between world powers.

Waivers withdrawn
And, only three weeks ago, the US president scrapped the remaining sanction waivers on those countries accepting Iranian oil.

A week ago, the White House announced that it was sending an aircraft carrier strike group with bombers to the region.

Then, a few days ago, the US Maritime Administration (MarAd) warned that Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting tankers or other vessels associated with the US in the Persian Gulf. At least one of the tankers holed was bound for Saudi Arabia to load crude for carriage to the US.

This time last year, I wrote that the decision by Trump to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran — a move that the European Union, Russia and China could, for no reason, understand or support — was a dismal setback for shipping.

The Iranian maritime sector was beginning to re-establish normal global trading and investment patterns. That followed the easing of sanctions by then US President Barack Obama after seven years of restrictions on Iran.

National Iranian Tanker Co (NITC) was back using international protection and indemnity clubs, such as Skuld, chartering out vessels to the likes of Shell and about to start a $2.5bn fleet-renewal programme.

But that was all stopped in its tracks. Now, as Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt put it this week, the US and Iran are in danger of sliding into a war that surely no one wanted.

Surely it does not make sense even for the US? Trump has been calling on Opec to lower the global oil price by increasing its agreed output target.

And yet the US’ reintroduction of tighter and tighter sanctions against Iran is reducing that country’s exports and pushing up the global price of oil.

Implementing new US sanctions on Venezuela is also pushing up global crude prices, countered only by the escalating trade war with China.

Latest salvo in Trump’s escalating trade war creates shipping risk

At least one shipping man backs Trump’s surreal tariff proposal

Tariff tantrums
The tariff tantrums are undermining container movements on the key Asia-Pacific route and raising the price of some consumer products in the US.

Trade wars traditionally reduce global shipments, so threaten the maritime industries but also reduce oil demand — and therefore prices.

It is hard not to conclude that all of these bellicose words and actions against rivals or historic enemies by the US and others are partly connected to the rise of nationalism. The sad truth is that conflict stokes national feeling and can go down well with local electorates — at least until the bodies start to mount up.

But word wars, trade wars or physical wars generally sink the global shipping industry. Let’s hope the Saudi saga is the end, not the start, of something more bitter.

Source: TradeWinds



The crew of a bulk carrier have reported a suspicious approach by a speedboat.

The bulk carrier was underway 115 nautical miles east of Baganga on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

As the speedboat approached an alarm was raised, the bulk carrier’s crew mustered and the ship‘s fire hoses pressurised.

Individuals in the speedboat were shouting towards the ship. Some were holding steel hooks.

The International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) piracy reporting centre said the speedboat chased the bulk carrier for some 30 minutes before moving away.

The bulk carrier continued its passage.

Pirate attacks off the east coast of Mindanao have been rare.

Even problems associated with piracy and crew abduction off southern Mindanao in the Sulu and Celebes Seas have been in decline.

A senior official in the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has been as quoted as saying there had been no piracy incidents off Mindanao in the ten months  to October 2018 and there have been no reports of piracy in the first four months of 2019.

However, Mindanao remains under martial law and terrorists and armed groups have the potential to pose a pirate threat.

Source: Gray Page


4 Persons Kidnapped and Vessel Assumed Hijacked at Nembe LGA, Nigeria

May 13: Initial reports indicate that at approx. 15:00 LT three staff of Integrated Data Services Ltd (IDSL, a subsidiary of NNPC) were kidnapped along with their pilot whilst they were inspecting oil installations within Nembe LGA, close to Sonikiri. There is currently limited information on the attackers and on the details of the event, but the assailants are believed to have approached from on board one speedboat. The vessel that was attacked – a service boat – is currently assumed to have been hijacked.

Source: Maritime Security Review

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