MS Risk Blog

Security Advisory – Sahel Region (10 May 2018)

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Security Advisory:  Sahel Region

See on the right-hand side a social media post attributed to al-Qaeda in the Sahel region.  English translation is below:


English Translation:  Al Qaeda threatens to attack companies established in the Sahel region. In a communique published on May 8, the terrorist group accuses Western societies of plundering the resources of this region and announces that they have become targets of attack.


Security Summary

MS Risk will be evaluating the authenticity of this posting and the immediate implications (if any) in the coming days.

Potential perils include risk of ambush, kidnapping of expat or local national employees, theft of vehicles or fuel and other consumables, or vandalism.  Previous attacks have included attempts at indirect fire (a crude rocket attack made towards a mine in Jan 2017 which failed), the use of vehicle borne IEDs (car bombs) which appeared to feature in the Ouagadougou attack in March of this year and marauding gunmen attacks such as has been seen at hotels, restaurants and embassies in several countries in the last three years.  Furthermore, IED usage has increased in Mali and there are strong indications of new skill sets coming into the Sahel region.  This is indicative of skills transfer from other theatres of unrest, such as Libya and Syria.  There is a concern of growing sophistication of the IED threat in Mali and we are closely monitoring the expanding risk of this technology into the greater Sahel region.

The March 2018 terrorist incidents in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which saw two high profile targets attacked in broad daylight, demonstrates that militant groups operating in the Sahel region have the capabilities to carry out complex attacks.  This highlights the need to take stock of security and risk exposures.  It will be prudent for companies with a high profile in the Sahel region to watch for suspicious activity: surveillance, unknown persons loitering near property, signs of trespass or forced entry to premises, and odd contact in various forms and guises.  Companies should take this moment to assess their own exposures and consider procedures for night operations, road movements, journey management and security routines at residences, offices and depots.  We recommend a review of crisis management plans and escalation procedures.

MS Risk can assist corporates and NGOs as needed throughout the region.  Contact us for further assistance.

Contact Information


Regional Manager West Africa:  Philip Whitehead (Email: Mobile: +

Violence Erupts in Nicaragua

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Nicaragua is currently embroiled in what is being coined as the worst political crisis in the country’s history. Violence has erupted in the Latin American nation in response to planned social security reforms by President Daniel Ortega’s government. These reforms would mean increases to income and payroll taxes, as well as taking 5% of citizen’s pension checks for medical care.

On April 17, hundreds of elderly citizens, activists and others descended upon Managua in protests of the planned reform, which resulted in clashes between protestors and pro-government groups.

After 5 days of back to back protests President Ortega, in a televised speech, announced that he would be revoking the legislation. He stated that “we are revoking, cancelling, [and] putting to the side the resolution”. Despite this announcement protests have continued in the country, with many protestors instead being students and lecturers after protests expanded to cover various other anti-government grievances aside from the social security reform. The police crackdown on protestors has led to vast numbers of students and lecturers being detained, with Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission for Human Rights reporting over 120 had been arrested. Detainees have since been released, however there are unconfirmed reports that detainees were subjected to beatings and torture whilst in custody.

Ortega has also invited Nicaragua’s bishops and Cardinal Leopoldo Jose Brenes to be involved in peace keeping mediation talks between the government and the country’s leading business organisation in an attempt to resolve the mass unrest. Having been called by the Catholic Church, tens of thousands marched for what they are calling ‘Peace and Justice’ in attempts to ease tensions in the country. The day before, Nicaragua’s private business sector also organised a march that attracted similar numbers calling for an end to the unrest and an end to the repression by Ortega’s government.

On April 24, in light of the mass unrest, the US has decided to withdraw embassy staff from the country. A statement from the White House said “The repugnant political violence by police and pro-government thugs against the people of Nicaragua, particularly university students, has shocked the democratic international community”. On the same day the UN human rights office in Geneva called for an investigation into the violence to be carried out, claiming they suspect the killings by the police to be ‘unlawful’.

On 27 April, after 9 days of continuous protests and looting, Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission for Human Rights has reported that 63 people have died in the violence. Furthermore, 15 people are still missing and more than 160 have been injured by gunfire alone with 9 of these being in critical condition. The government has neither confirmed nor denied these figures as yet. Ortega is blaming right-wing agitators for the violence stating they have tried to discredit his government by infiltrating the protests. As we head into May, the unrest shows no signs of slowing down.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU)

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More than ten percent of the world’s population makes their living from fisheries and aquaculture and at least half of mankind’s source of protein is from fish and seafood. This proportion in Asia is even higher.

National law and rules of intergovernmental regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO) regulate fisheries. Illegal fishing means fishing without a licence, using destructive practices or fishing in prohibited areas, to name a few. Unreported fishing stands for catches not reported to national or international authorities. Unregulated fishing usually refers to vessels operating in violation of national law or RFMO’s regulations.

IUU operators try to register their vessels in countries which they do not have a genuine connection with, or which lack strict supervision, like Cambodia. Illegal fishers usually change the flag they are travelling under to another country’s, which is called flag hopping.

Another practice to avoid regulations is to transfer their catch to another ship while on the sea, not in a port. At-sea transhipments are legitimate practices and not a subject of controls when a ship is at sea. It also makes laundering illegally caught fish clean. Illegal operators also use ports of convenience known for poor inspections. Unreported fishing leads to overfishing, which affects most of the Asian countries, especially Cambodia and the Philippines. Destructive fishing also has a huge and long-term effect on our ecosystem. The use of chemicals to poison fishes or dynamites to destroy their internal organs also damages reefs and natural habitats. Bottom trawling and ghost fishing are also illegal, yet still widely used in Asia. The Spratley and Paracel Islands are highly threatened by these, not to mention issues such as reef building and the claiming sovereignty by more than one Asian nation.

One of the many reasons behind the unsuccessful fight against IUU is the lack of national capability. Some of the countries have huge territorial waters to patrol. Think about Indonesia which has less than 100 coastguard vessels, yet it has 6 million km² to monitor, which is double the size of the Mediterranean Sea. The previously mentioned lack of clearly defined maritime borders and corruption are also among the reasons IUU fishing is a serious issue. An illegal fishing vessel was detained in Indonesia in April, which turned out to be carrying a 30 km long gillnet. Every now and then there are news regarding arrests of illegal fishermen, but it is only a drop in the sea.

The Asia Foundation in cooperation with the USA, China and Thailand held an ASEAN Regional Forum in Bangkok in March 2018. The participants agreed that an inclusive and synchronised legal framework is needed to regulate fisheries policies in the region. Regional powers should share their best practices and harmonise their plans into a common regional practice. Most of the crimes committed in the fishing industry are transnational, therefore joint monitoring, surveillance and control is crucial to fight effectively against criminals. Information-sharing between agencies and authorities will further improve sustainable fisheries management. Coordinated sea-farming can lead to sustainable ecosystems. Introducing small-scale fishery practices to local communities would mean a stable and long-term livelihood. The participants agreed that exploring further options for collaboration at national and local level will contribute to identifying goals and next steps for sustainable fisheries management.

Houthi rebels hold 19 Oil Tankers off Yemeni Coast

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24 April 2018–  Saudi media is reporting that the Houthi rebels have captured nineteen oil tankers, and have prevented them from entering Hodeidah port. Mohammed Al Jaber, Saudi ambassador to Yemen and the Executive Director of the Comprehensive Humanitarian Support Center, is quoted as saying that the tankers, carrying nearly 200,000 tons of oil derivatives, and are being held in the Houthi controlled area of ​​ al-Maqţaf.

Al Jaber is quoted as identifying multiple scenarios for the seizure of the vessels. In the first, he suggests that the Houthis could extract money from the vessels, including “royalties of up to one million dollars for each ship that allows it to dock in the port, and thus prolong the war and refuelling the war effort.”

Second, al Jaber suggests that the Houthis have leveraged the humanitarian situation as a tool of war and could continue to do so. On one hand, the rebels can use the provision basic needs, including oil, as a recruitment tool toward local tribesmen. On the other hand, the seizures can be used to drive the price of black market oil. Al Jaber states, “The longer the ships are held at sea and the smaller the supply at home, the more a $1 a barrel of oil derivatives can be sold for $10 on the black market.” Hospitals, commercial centres, factories, or even individuals would be subject to extortionate rates.

Some sources add that the ambassador suggested a third scenario: the Houthis could plan to destroy the tankers, causing major environmental damage to the Red Sea. In late 2017 and early 2018, the Houthis threatened international traffic in the narrow waterways near Bab-al-Mandab Strait, and stated they would start attacking vessels if the Saudi Coalition attempted to recapture Hodeidah port. Jaber has added that the Houthis have been using Hodeidah port as a tool of war for years, adding that the rebels also use the port as a financial resource and a location to smuggle Iranian weapons into Yemen.

For their part, the Houthis have issued a statement claiming the accumulation of tankers is not for “the purpose of detention”, but as a result of limited capacity at Hodeidah port. They stated that the Saudi coalition closure of Ras Issa oil port since the end of June 2017 has caused pressure on Hodeidah port, which has a capacity of 5 berths for general goods and containers. “For oil tankers, the port has two dolphin berths for docking, one of which receives oil carriers with a capacity of only 5,000 tons.”

The Houthi statement accused the Arab coalition of exacerbating the crisis of the accumulation of oil tankers at the port Hodeidah, “since it granted the tankers entry permits since the beginning of April.” They added “[The coalition is] aware of the capacity of the port, forcing the institution to receive two tankers on the commercial platform.”

The information has been reported by a single source in English-speaking media. MS Risk is staying abreast of the situation and will report as more information becomes available.

Mission Accomplished? The Trump Administration’s Syria Conundrum 

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On 13 April, a joint U.S.-U.K.-French naval and air strike was launched against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons programme in retaliation for the deployment of chlorine and sarin nerve agents against innocent civilians in Douma, eastern Ghouta, on 7 April. The Trump administration subsequently framed the missile strike as, in part, a repudiation of the Obama administration’s response to a similar attack launched by the Syria regime in June 2013. In contrast to President Obama’s last minute decision to refrain from military action, the Trump administration positioned its action as resolute and decisive. Before the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley declared, “When our president draws a red line, our president enforces a red line.” The quote was quickly packaged into a tweet on Ms Haley’s account, retweeted by President Trump and widely disseminated from the White House podium. 

The subtext of the quote is likely that the Trump administration overcame the same obstacle that the Obama administration did not — namely, the risk of mission-creep upon entering into Syria’s quagmire. Rather than refrain from military action, the Trump administration presented itself as confronting its own red line with consistency and decisiveness. This sense of confrontation was particularly noticeable considering President Trump’s comments two weeks beforehand. On 29 March, reportedly without informing his State Department, Pentagon or national security officials, the president told a crowd in Ohio that the United States would be withdrawing from Syria, “like, very soon.” He continued, “We’ve got to get back to our country where we belong; where we want to be”, before adding, “Let other people take care of it now.” Rather than seek regime change, the Trump administration therefore undertook a pin-prick strike against minor targets related to the regime’s chemical weapons programme, all the while enforcing its red line. “Mission Accomplished”, the president would tweet the following day. 

Yet it is not entirely clear that the Trump administration has overcome the hurdle of mission-creep faced by the Obama administration in 2013. This is because a growing stake in the Syrian conflict’s trajectory not only arises from military intervention itself and its perceived consequences upon a worsening and highly uncertain conflict (as was President Obama’s concern), but from the language justifying that intervention. Here, President Trump’s condemnation of the primary stakeholders in any likely future resolution to the conflict — the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments — is particularly noticeable. President Assad is a “Gas Killing Animal”, a “Monster” and a “Butcher.” The Russian and Iranian governments, including President Putin, are “responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.” Speaking to reporters before a White House cabinet meeting, the president reiterated on 9 April that “Everybody’s going to pay a price.” Consequently, Mr Trump’s two-week old declaration that the U.S. will “Let other people take care of it now” — meaning Assad, Russia and Iran — now falls notably short of the White House’s own criteria for who should have a stake in Syria’s future. For a White House that is highly image-conscious and sensitive to accusations of weakness, these words of condemnation may incentivise a future diplomatic shift in Trump administration policy over Syria.   

Rather than overcoming President Obama’s 2013 predicament through strength of will, it is therefore possible to interpret Trump administration policy in Syria through the lens of Mr Obama’s 2013 conundrum between non-military action and potential mission-creep. The Trump administration faces the possibility of being pushed and pulled between withdrawal and greater involvement in Syria as a result of Mr Trump’s decisive remarks on both sides of this conundrum. This is not to pass comment on the legitimacy of the missile strikes on 13 April, but only to show that U.S. credibility can become attached to even pin-prick assaults. A successful, clinical strike may prove to have broader consequences further down the line for Trump administration policy in Syria.