MS Risk Blog

Piracy and Robbery at Sea – Incidents for April 2013

Posted on in Africa, Piracy title_rule

Summary:  There were a total of 43 reported incidents that occurred in April.  The Horn of Africa and IOR saw relatively low activity across the High Risk Area (HRA) throughout the month of April.  Most of the incidents that occurred were suspicious sightings of dhows towing skiffs however a single attack was confirmed.  Meanwhile in Western Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea, attacks have occurred mainly off the coast of Nigeria, mainly south of Brass, in the state of Bayelsa.  In Asia, incidents remained largely to be petty thefts in ports however a number of attacks were more violent and occurred on vessels underway.  A barge was also reported stolen in the region.  Lastly, robbery in South American ports remained at a steady count in April, however there are fears that a number of incidents were unreported.

Early in the morning of March 30, off the island of Masirah, Oman, the Liberian flagged cargo bulk carrier, the Atlantik Confidence, reported to have a fire in the engine room and requested assistance.  Upon receiving the message, Admiral Antonio Natale, Commander of the NATO Task Force engaged in the fight against piracy off the Horn of Africa, promptly ordered the nearest vessel under his command, the frigate USS Nicholas, to proceed at maximum and to provide assistance.  Sometime later, the Captain of the Altantik Confidence ordered his crew members, which comprised of 21 Turkish Seamen, to abandon the ship as he had assessed that the fire was now out of control.  Upon reaching the scene, it was seen that the merchant vessel war already partially sunk but still floating.  After verifying that the survivors appeared to be safely in life-boats and did not need immediate medical assistance, the NATO Ship coordinated the embarkation operations on board an oil tanker called Pluto transiting in the area and which was also manned entirely by a Turkish crew.  According to a NavWar that was issued by US MARAD, the damaged ship sank around 140 nautical miles off the Wusta coast on April 3.

In Western Africa, one hijack was reported this month in the region.  The offshore crew boat, Utai 8, with a crew of 3, went missing.  The boat was reported to have been involved in a 2-boat attack on the MT City of Xiamen where 5 crew were kidnapped.

In Asia, fifteen pirates armed with guns and long knives in three high speed boats boarded the tug Hub 21 which was underway in the South China Sea.  They took nine crew members hostage, assaulted some of the crew and tied them up.  They ransacked all the cabins and stole the ship’s property as well as the crew members’ cash and personal items before escaping.  Meanwhile the crew from a neighboring barge noticed an unknown tug boat pulling the cargo barge off Tanjung Ayajm, Malaysia.  Eng Tou 266 was stolen and remains to be missing.

South America saw three incidents, with robberies occurring in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

Horn of Africa

pastedGraphic.pdf

Serial Date Vessel Name Flag/Type Location/Type of Incident
1 1 April Unknown   Suspicious Activity – IRTC, GoA/Dhow and four skiffs
2 2 April Alpha Kirawira Sierra Leone/General Cargo ship NE of Kismayo, Somalia/Attack:  Skiff fired, AST warning shots
3 2 April Unknown   Suspicious Activity – Gulf of Aden/2 dhows and 3 – 4 skiffs
4 3 April Atlantik Confidence Bulk Carrier NavWarn – MV sank Apr 3 after fire & abandonment – possible empty lifeboat adrift
5 3 April Unnamed Panama/Bulk Carrier Suspicious Activity – NE of Masirah Island, Oman/Lifeboat and 5 skiffs observed MV, AST stood to
6 3 April Unnamed Liberia/Tanker Suspicious Activity – Lifeboat and 2 skiffs, skiffs approached MV; MV moved away
7 4 April Unnamed Cayman Islands/Tanker Suspicious Activity – IRTC, GoA/4 Dhows and 11 skiffs
8 8 April Unnamed Unknown Suspicious Activity – IRTC, GoA/Dhow and 4 skiffs, AST report
9 9 April Unnamed Panama/Tanker Suspicious Activity – IRTC/GoA/Mothership and 2 skiffs trailed MV for 20 mins; AST weapons displayed
10 10 April Unnamed   Suspicious Activity – Gulf of Aden/Dhow and 2 skiffs
11 11 April Unnamed   Suspicious Activity – Red Sea/3 skiffs
12 29 April Unnamed   Suspicious Activity – IRTC, GoA/Dhow and 2 skiffs; Warship response; helicopter investigated

 

West Africa

 

 

Serial Date Vessel Name Flag/Type Location/Type of Incident
1 11 April RMS Baerl Antigua & Barbuda/General Cargo Ship Freetown Inner Roads, Sierra Leone/Robbery; AB held at knifepoint
2 13 April Gyre USA/Offshore Support Vessel Parrot Island, Calabar River, Nigeria/Attack; Warning shots fired
3 13 April Leon Dias Liberia/Chemical Tanker SE of Brass, Nigeria/Attack; board; robbery; release
4 16 April Cap Theodora Greece/Crude Tanker WNW Principe Island, Gulf of Guinea/Attack; evaded hijack
5 18 April Corinth Marshall Islands/General Cargo Ship Pointe Noire anchorage, The Congo/Attempted boarding
6 22 April Cap Theodora Greece/Crude Tanker SSE of Brass, Nigeria/Attack; numerous boarding attempts
7 23 April Hansa Marburg Liberia/Container Ship 105 nm off Nigeria/Attack, board and kidnap of 4 crew members
8 24 April Bosun Antigua & Barbuda/Container Ship SSW of Nigeria coast/Attack; fired upon; evaded
9 25 April Utai 8 Nigeria Crew/Change Boat S of Brass, Nigeria/Hijack with 3 crew members; possible Mothership
10 25 April City of Xiamen Antigua & Barbuda/Container Ship WSW of Brass, Nigeria/Attack 2 boats – Utai 8 – Citadel Breach, 5 kidnapped
11 26 April City of Guangzhou Antigua & Barbuda/Container Ship WSW of Brass, Nigeria/Attack, attempt board, 1 hour chase

 

Southeast Asia

pastedGraphic_1.pdf

Serial Date Vessel Name Flag/Type Location/Type of Incident
1 1 April Crane Marshall Islands/Bulk Carrier Chittagong anchorage A, Bangladesh/Boarding and failed robbery; 6 robbers, whilst discharging ops
NS 1 April Condor Marshall Islands/Bulk Carrier Suspicious Activity – Indian Ocean/Group of boats, crew to citadel, evasive action, AST stood to
NS 2 April Wehr Blankenese Marshall Islands/Container Ship Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam/Robbery, unnoticed
2 3 April Ivor Exact Gibraltar (UK)/Chemical Tanker Dumai anchorage, Indonesia/Approach, 4 robbers
3 3 April Sher-e-Punjab Liberia/Bulk Carrier Adang Bay anchorage, Indonesia/Robbery
4 4 April Garden River City Singapore/Crude Tanker Dumai Inner anchorage, Indonesia/Robbery
5 5 April New Century Marshall Islands/Oil Tanker Visakhapatnam anchorage, India/Attempted boarding, 7 robbers in 3 fishing boats
6 6 April Maersk Bering Singapore/Chemical Tanker Belawan anchorage, Indonesia/Robbery, unnoticed; Attempt to “sell back” to ship
7 9 April Westgate Liberia/Bulk Carrier Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam/Robbery, unnoticed
8 12 April Densa Jaguar Malta/Bulk Carrier Surabaya Port, Indonesia/Attempted robbery
9 17 April IVS Magpie Singapore/Bulk Carrier Campha Outer anchorage, Vietnam/Board and robbery
10 19 April Singapore River Singapore/Tanker Dumai inner anchorage, Indonesia/Robbery
11 22 April Eng Tou 266 Singapore/Barge Carrier Off Tanjung Ayajm, Malaysia/Barge stolen
12 23 April AD Phoenix Singapore/Tanker NE of Bintan Island, Indonesia/Robbery; no response authorities
13 24 April Hub 21 Malaysia/Tug South China Sea/Robbery; 15 pirates in 3 speedboats, 9 crew taken hostage, some assaulted and tied up.
14 24 April Nadiya Melisende Kiribati/Product Tanker NE of Bintan Island, Indonesia/Robbery
15 27 April Fairchem Maverick Panama/Chemical Tanker Berth Ocean Quay 106, Belawan Port, Indonesia/Robbery, 2 robbers board vessel
16 29 April Crest Gold1/Crest 2821 Singapore/Tug and Barge Singapore Straits/Robbery from barge being towed by tug
17 30 April Kohinoor Panama/General Cargo Ship Belawan Port, Indonesia/Robbery during customs/Discharge ops

South America

pastedGraphic_2.pdf

Serial Date Vessel Name Flag/Type Location/Type of Incident
1 13 April Unique Guardian Hong Kong, China/Chemical Tanker Punta Talara anchorage, Peru/robbery
2 15 April Maersk Nienburg Hong Kong, China/Container Ship Guayaquil, Ecuador/Boarding
3 16 April Shamrock Barbados/Ro-Ro Cargo Ship Cartagena Inner anchorage, Colombia/Robbery

 

Libya Becoming the New Mali? Islamist Threat Begins to Shift in the Sahara

Posted on in Africa, Libya title_rule

The recent suicide attacks on a French-run mine and a military base in northern Niger have demonstrated how the Islamist threat is spreading across the weak nations that are located within the Sahara.  What does this mean for France? The country and its troops may be tied down in the region for years to come.  In turn, regional rivalries are aggravating the problem for the French government and its Western allies as a lack of greater cooperation amongst the countries located in the Sahara is only aiding the militants in regrouping in quieter parts of the vast desert.  One of these quieter territories is the lawless regions of southern Libya, which security officials have indicated is becoming the latest haven for al-Qaeda-linked fighters after French-led forces drove them from their strongholds in northern Mali earlier this year.

According to a senior adviser to Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore, “the south of Libya is what the north of Mali was like before.”  This remark comes just days after Niger announced that last week’s suicide raids, which killed twenty-five people at the army base and desert uranium mine run by France’s Areva, were launched from Libya.  Libya however has denied these allegations.

Smugglers have long used Libya’s poorly controlled south – a crossroads of routes to Chad, Algeria and Niger – for trafficking drugs, contraband cigarettes and people to Europe.  However the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 resulted in a flood of weapons and ammunition being brought into the Sahara.  Tuareg separatists used them in order to seize power in northern Mali, only to be ousted by even better-armed Islamists who set up training camps and imposed a harsh form of Islamic law until French forces arrived.  In turn, the Islamists have also exploited Libya’s weakness.  It is known that former al-Qaeda commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar had purchased weapons there after Gaddafi’s fall and his fighters passed through southern Libya to carry out a mass hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant in January, in which 37 foreigners died.

With no effective national army, Libya relies on local brigades in order to police its southern border region, where at least one hundred people died in ethnic violence last year.  Tripoli’s failure to restore security in the region may only encourage Islamist militants to set up permanent camps and weapons stores in the area.  Since the attack on Areva, France has urged regional powers to cooperate in order to tackle the threat that is coming from Libya as the country relies on Niger for one fifth of the uranium in order to power its nuclear reactors.  Niger’s long border with Mali, tough line on tackling militants and its role as a supplier of uranium to France have long made the country a target.  Since the attacks, US troops have begun to train the army while the government in Niamey has stepped up its security in the northern regions of the country, where French Special Forces went in earlier this year in order to protect the mines.  Four French mine workers who were taken hostage in Arlit in 2010 are still being held.

While Paris is keen on decreasing its troop numbers in the region, the persistent arguing and mistrust amongst the regional powers continues to be an issues, with President Francois Hollande admitting last week that French forces may be used elsewhere in the Sahel.  European governments, alarmed with the developments, also approved a 110-man mission this week that will focus on improving border security by training Libyan police and security forces.

In a region that mainly comprises of vast desert regions, borders often have little meaning, and militants can blend in with nomads.  Consequently hunting Islamist militants requires states riven by mutual suspicion to work together.  Officials in the United States have indicated that efforts to tackle the spreading influence of al-Qaeda’s ideology throughout the Sahara has been beset by long-standing rivalries, notably between Morocco and Algeria, coupled with a lack of trust and communication amongst the regional capitals.

Algeria, the Sahara’s main military power, has long bristled at the idea of outside intervention in the region, particularly one led by its former colonial ruler, France.  Although the Algerian government allowed French warplanes operating in Mali to fly over its territory, Malian officials have indicated that Algeria should be more active, whether by arresting militants or preventing the flow of fuel that allows them to cover vast desert distance.  The northern Malian town of Gao lies about 1,500 km (930 miles) from the border of southern Libya.

Mauritania also needs to place more of an effort on this issue.  This is mainly due to the country’s strategic location on the western edge of the Sahara coupled with a high number of its citizens who are senior militants and with its experience in tackling Islamist militants at home.

The rapidly changing face of Islamist militancy also creates problems for the local governments.  For years, al-Qaeda’s North African wing, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), relied largely on Algerians.  However last year, the militant group was composed of gunmen from across northern Africa along with citizens from West Africa – militants who are more experienced and have a greater knowledge of the territory.

In Mali, drone surveillance and on the ground counter-terrorism teams have put a lot of effort in order to suppress the militants.  Suicide attacks around the northern towns of Gao and Menaka this month claimed no victims apart from the bombers themselves.  According to officials in France, around 600 Islamists have been killed since Operation Serval was launched in January.  In turn, about 200 tonnes of ammunition and dozens of vehicles were seized in operations that scoured the desert regions and mountain bases.  This disrupted arms and fuel dumps that militants had prepared during their nine-month occupation of northern Mali.  According to a French officer in Mali, “they don’t seem to have the ability to coordinate attacks in Mali anymore…we assume that they will try and regroup but it will take time for them and it is risky as they know we are watching.”  The French campaign in Mali has been backed by a British spy plane while the US has drones operating from Niger alongside an established monitoring base in Burkina Faso.  But while Islamist militants once traveled in large convoys, they have since adapted and are keeping a low provide.  A trend which will likely be seen over the next few years, as militants continue to adapt themselves to nor only the territory, but to the techniques that the West uses in order to track them down.

MENA Report

Posted on in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon-Syria, MENA, Turkey, Yemen title_rule

Algeria

Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question

On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health.  An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.

Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.

In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.

While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation.  Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.

 

Bahrain

US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain

3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain.  The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”

Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.

A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.

Bombing suspects arrested, confess

2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May.  A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.

Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote.  At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.

Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed

Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.

 

Egypt

Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected

2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.

It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.

To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature.  However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam

31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.

The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.

In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.

Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”

A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.

The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.

Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.

Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.

 

Iraq

Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq

2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .

Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.

It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.

 

Jordan

60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home

30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.

Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.

 

Lebanon- Syria

Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair

3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.

Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.

Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.

On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.

The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.

A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.

 

Libya

Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court

Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.

Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.

In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.

Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”

 

Turkey

Turkish Activists Issue Demands

5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.

Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.

 

Yemen

Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda

6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.

The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.

Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to  bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.

Malian Soldiers Clash with Tuareg Fighters Near Kidal

Posted on in Africa, Mali title_rule

A spokesman for Mali’s army has indicated that the country’s soldiers have clashed with secular separatist Tuareg fighters in a town south of the rebel-held regional capital of Kidal, a city which has been under the control of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) since February of this year when Islamist militants fled.  This is the first time that the Malian army has fought against the Tuareg separatists since France launched its intervention in January of this year.  A number of on the ground sources have indicated that the Malian army is eager to ensure that Kidal, which is located in the far north of Mali near the border with Algeria, is under the government’s full control before the presidential elections take place on 28 July.  However the Tuareg separatists have indicated that they will not allow Malian authorities into Kidal ahead of the polls.

MaliAccording to reports, Malian troops attacked militant positions in the town of Anefis, which is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Kidal.  The attack was part of an operation to retake the city from the ethnic Tuareg MNLA.  According to Malian army spokesman Souleymane Maiga, “our troops have engaged armed bandits in the Anefis area who have suffered heavy losses of men and vehicles.”  The clashes have been confirmed by the MNLA, with vice-president Mahamadou Djeri Maiga stating that “the Malian army has attacked our positions this morning in Anefis.  It decided to resolve the situation through war and the Malian government will bear the consequences.”  He further indicated that “we never wanted to resolve the situation by war, but as this is so, we will defend ourselves until the end.”  The vice-president of the MNLA is currently in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso where he is in talks with Malian officials over the staging of Mali’s upcoming elections. However this recent unrest has cast a shadow over the these talks.

Although France has begun to withdraw some of its 4,000 troops from Mali, after driving Islamist groups from the main towns and cities of the north, attacks and uprisings continue to occur throughout the country, resulting in officials debating wether or not the country is prepared for an early withdrawal.  In turn, this incident has further indicated that animosity between the varying ethnic groups in Mali still exists and may slow down the country’s unification process.

Last week, there were protests in the northern city of Gao, in which France was accused of favoring the minority ethnic Tuareg group by allowing the continued occupation of Kidal.  In turn, the latest incident comes just one day after a suicide bomber blew himself up on Tuesday at the house of an MNLA leader in Kidal who is suspected by the Malian army of being an informant for the French military.  According to a military source, “the suicide bomber was waiting for someone in the (MNLA) colonel’s house when he was caught by some youths and set off his bomb.  He is dead and there is one person wounded.”

Released Chinese Ship Returns to Port

Posted on in North Korea title_rule

North Korea
A Chinese fishing vessel, the Liaoning Generic Fishing No. 25000, seized by the North Korean navy in the Yellow Sea earlier this month, safely docked in its home port of Dalian on the evening of Saturday, June 1st. While there have been reports that no ransom was paid in this instance, the incident demonstrates significant potential risks for shipping operating near the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) disputed maritime borders.

The craft and its 16 crew were seized at gunpoint on the 5th of May and taken to be held in North Korea. The ship’s owner, Yu Xuejin, was not aboard and reports that he was informed of the incident on May 10th, when unidentified North Koreans contacted him demanding 600’000 Yuan (£64’000) for the safe return of his vessel. Both Yu and official Chinese sources insist the craft was in Chinese waters, though the ransom demand claimed the vessel was captured because it had strayed in North Korean waters. Yu was ordered to pay the money to a company in Dandong, a Chinese city on the border between the PRC and DPRK with a large population of ethnic Koreans, many of whom retain contact with relatives in the secretive North Korean state.

Instead of paying, Yu contacted the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and publicised his case on China’s micro blogging services, leading to marked public outrage within the PRC. The MFA made representations to the North Korean authorities and successfully secured the release of the vessel and crew on the 21st of May. Yao Guozhi, the captain, claims the crew was kept in poor condition with very little food, though they were able to continue with fishing operations for a time after their release.

While China and North Korean are officially allies, the relationship has become increasingly strained since the end of the Cold War. Beijing finds itself frequently at odds with Pyongyang, and there is significant public demand within China for a firmer diplomatic stance regarding its unpredictable neighbour.

In fact, this incident is only the most recent of numerous acts of piracy in the sea between China and the Korean peninsula. In May last year, 3 Chinese fishing vessels and their 29 crew were taken in similar circumstances in the Yellow Sea, with a ransom of 1.2 million Yuan (£130’000) demanded. In this instance, the captives were reportedly starved and severely beaten while in North Korean custody. Commenting on the most recent incident, a Liaoning Maritime and Fisheries official observed:

“Whatever you call North Korea – rogue state or whatever – these kind of cases just keep on happening. We had such cases last year and the year before. There’s very little we can do to prevent them”

Exact figures for the number of incidents remain unknown – in the past, many Chinese would pay the ransoms, which were at the time very small. This helped ensure incidents were kept out of the public eye. Demands for increased payment in recent cases perhaps indicate the North Koreans responsible have found the piracy profitable and may be escalating their activities as a result.

However, it is extremely unlikely last month’s seizure of the Chinese vessel represents official North Korean policy. North Korea cannot claim to have an entirely coherent state or military, and government entities including the armed forces became weak and disorganised when a disastrous famine killed an estimated 5 – 10% of the population in the mid-1990s.

As a result of the famine, a huge black market formed which is now the most significant economic force within the DPRK. While the current situation is nowhere near as extreme as in the 1990s, the state bureaucracy often fails to supply basic necessities. With the North Korean won essentially worthless access to foreign hard cash for use on the black market is crucial for even the most basic standards of living – cross-border criminality such as smuggling has proliferated dramatically as a result.

Piracy in the Yellow Sea is very likely another symptom of this trend. North Korean armed forces personnel are extremely poorly paid and often malnourished, and many become involved in criminal activity to supplement their meagre earnings. As such the most likely culprits in last month’s incidents, and identified as such by the Chinese victims, are North Korean naval forces acting opportunistically.

While broader state involvement is doubtful, some level of co-operation with local officials is likely, though the exact identity of the Koreans involved remains unknown. Additionally, reporting from similar incidents in the past has suggested the possible involvement of Chinese-Koreans, perhaps indicating a connection with ethnic Korean organised criminality based in the aforementioned border city of Dandong.

North Korea does not recognise the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime boundary with South Korea, and has operated beyond it in the past, while its maritime borders with China remain extremely fluid. Disputed territorial claims in the area and lack of strong authority in the DPRK have created a cat and mouse game of border incursions between vessels of both Koreas and Chinese ships. Chinese pirates also operate in the Yellow Sea, and killed a North Korean soldier in 2009. North Korea has a history of capturing South Korean ships, and reportedly continues to hold a total of 427 South Korean sailors and fishermen captive, though this activity has lessened dramatically since a peak in the 1970s.

The North Korean navy is poorly equipped, and for the most part limited to operations in or just beyond it’s territorial waters – the major shipping lanes in the Bohai Strait and similar likely remain outside the reach of most DPRK vessels. Nevertheless, any ships in the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay should be aware of the contentious environment and the potential for DPRK naval forces to engage in opportunistic acts of piracy.

While the political situation on the Korean peninsula has recently begun to calm down again, escalation is almost certain to reoccur in the future. In case of dramatically increased tensions, DPRK violations of South Korean or Chinese waters would be expected, with the North Koreans unlikely to respect the status of any neutral shipping in the area.