On 23 November 2016, NATO announced that it has ended Operation Ocean Shield after a sharp decline in attacks by Somali pirates. While there has been no vessel hijacked off Somalia since May 2012, the threat of piracy remains high despite no major incidents reported. This is due to the fact that pirate action group’s (PAGs) operating in the region continue to maintain the capability and drive to launch attacks in a bid to successfully hijack a merchant vessel.
MS Risk advises all vessels transiting this region to remain aware that while NATO has ended its operations in the area, the threat remains high and continued vigilance and compliance with BMP4 procedures is necessary. The threat remains high in waters off the southern Red Sea/Bab el Mandeb, Gulf of Aden – including Yemen and the northern Somali Coast – Arabian Sea/Off Oman, the Gulf of Oman and off the eastern and southern Somali coast. In the past, incidents of vessels being attacked have been recorded in waters off Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, the Seychelles and Tanzania, as well as in the Indian Ocean and off the western and southern coasts of India and western Maldives. We advise that all vessels continue to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch. We further remind all Masters that fishermen operating in this region may try to protect their nets by attempting to aggressively approach merchant ships. Some fishermen may be armed and should no be confused with pirates.
MS Risk further advise merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea, Bab el-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden to also operate under a heightened state of alert due to increasing tensions in the region, which can escalate the potential for direct or collateral damage to ships transiting this area. We advise that all vessels transiting this region should report any incidents or suspicious activity immediately. The threat may come from a number of different sources including missiles, projectiles or waterborne improvised explosive devices. Houthi rebels have claimed responsibly for the 1 October 2016 attack on a UAE vessel.
All ships and patrol aircraft under NATO Operation Ocean Shield have now left the area off the Horn of Africa. The Royal Danish Air Force carried out the last Indian Ocean surveillance missions for NATO, with the commander of the Danish air force detachment disclosing that NATO can resume its anti-piracy efforts at any time – whether in the Somali basin or the Atlantic Ocean.
Ships and patrol aircraft operating under the mission had been patrolling waters in this region since 2009 as part of a broader international effort to crackdown on Somali-based pirates who were impacting world shipping. The Ocean Shield operation, as well as European Union (EU) counter-piracy mission, have significantly reduced attacks, with the last reported vessel hijacking off Somalia occurring in May 2012 – down from more than thirty ships at the peak in 2010 – 2011.
NATO is now shifting its resources towards deterring Russia in the Black Sea and people smugglers in the Mediterranean. Earlier this month, NATO broadened its operations in the Mediterranean Sea in a bid to help the EU stop criminals trafficking refugees from North Africa.
Officials this month confirmed that five new pieces of debris that could belong to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have been found in Madagascar.
The findings were made by debris hunger Blaine Gibson, who has previously found other parts of the plane. Mr Gibson, a laywer from Seattle, has funded his own search for debris in eastern Africa. According to officials, two fragments appear to show burn marks, which if confirmed would be the first time that such marks have been found. Mr Gibson has disclosed that the two alleged burnt pieces were recovered near Sainte Luce, in southeastern Madagascar. It is unclear, however, if the apparent burn marks were caused by fire prior to the crash or as a result of burning afterwards. Another small piece was found in the same area while the two other pieces were located in the northeastern beaches of Antsiraka and Riake, where debris had already been found. All of the five fragments located this month have the “honeycomb” material that was found in other MH370 debris. The new discovered have been sent to investigators at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
A number of other pieces of debris, some confirmed to have come from MH370, have been found in countries near Madagascar. They include a section of the wing called a flaperon, which was found on Reunion Island, and a horizontal stabilizer from the tail section and a stabilizer panel with a “No Step” stencil that were discovered in Mozambique.
MH370, which was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, had 239 people on board when it vanished on March 2014. The flight is presumed to have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after veering off course. Australia has been leading the search for the missing aircraft, using underwater drones and sonar equipment deployed from specialist ships. The search, which also involves China and Malaysia, has led to more than 105,000 sq km (65,000 sq miles) of the 120,000 sq km search zone being searched so far. Countries have agreed that in the absence of “credible new information” the search is expected to end later this year.
Just days after the Renamo movement ended its peace accord, Zimbabwe has urged that the ex-rebel group in Mozambique end its fighting.
In what is an attack that has sparked fears across Mozambique of a possible return to civil war, on Tuesday, gunmen attacked a police station just after Renamo declared that the 1992 peace accord was no longer valid. The attack on the police station, which occurred in the central town of Maringue, prompted officers to flee their posts. According to Maringue’s administrator, Antonio Absaloa, there were no reported casualties however schools in the region remain closed in fears that further clashes may occur.
The town of Maringue is located about 35 kilometers (20 miles) from Renamo’s base in the central Gorongosa mountains. The Renamo base was seized on Monday by Mozambique’s military, however the ex-rebels have indicated that the operation was aimed at killing its leader, Afonso Dhlakama. Mozambique’s President Armando Guebuza however has stated that country’s soldiers acted in self-defence after Renamo militants fired at them. The military raid on the bush camp prompted the Renamo to end the peace accord late on Monday.
Although the attack, and subsequent end of the peace accord, has sparked fears throughout the country and region that the ex-rebels may launch another civil war, on Tuesday an independent negotiator indicated that Mozambique’s President and representatives of Renamo were determined to avoid a return to war. Lourenco do Rosario had indicated that Renamo “reaffirms that it does not want to return to war,” instead the opposition group has demanded that government forces pull back from its base in the Gorongosa mountains. According to the independent negotiator, Renamo has also pledged that in exchange, it will not restart hostilities.” In turn, Mozambique’s President Guebuza has also renewed his commitment, stating that “dialogue is the best way forward despite the skirmishes.”
Founded one year after Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, Renamo (the Mozambican National Resistance Movement) was formed as an anti-Communist rebel group that was backed by South Africa’s former white-minority regime. The group opposed the newly formed Marxist-leaning government, which was led by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), resulting in tensions between the Frelimo and Renamo which later escalated into a civil war that was fought between 1977 and 1992. Backed by colonial Rhodesia, Renamo was used in order to destablize the Frelimo government, which supported the Zimbabwe liberation fighters. Once Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, Renamo formed an alliance with South Africa’s apartheid regime, which would later supply the group with arms. During the sixteen year bush war, more than a million people were killed. The 1992 Rome peace accord ended the war and paved the way for multi-party elections, which were held in 1994. During the nationwide elections, Renamo lost, later becoming Mozambique’s official opposition. During the 2009 polls, Renamo had attained only 16.5 percent of the vote, losing to President Armando Guebuza. This loss prompted Renamo’s dejected leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to threaten fresh fighting. By October 2012, in the face of dwindling political support, Dhlakama set up a camp in the Gorongosa mountains, where he undertook the training of former guerrilla fighters,who at the time, numbered no more than a thousand. In November of last year, Dhlakama indicated to the public that he was willing to “destroy Mozambique” if Renamo did not get a larger share of the country’s growing wealth. Although the rebel group, turned opposition, has repeatedly insisted it gain greater inclusion in the Frelimo government, including an overhaul of electoral laws, the Frelimo government has rejected its pleas, including a plea to renegotiate the terms of the 1992 peace accord. Currently, the Renamo movement is though to have about 1,000 fighters and fifty-one MP’s.
Since the end of the civil war, Renamo has repeatedly contested the country’s elections, however it has failed to dislodge Frelimo from power. In turn, they have complained that the Frelimo government is determined in holding on to power, which has resulted in the failure to create conditions for free and fair elections. While the Renamo have pulled out of the peace accord, its fifty-one MP’s have not withdrawn from parliament. Mozambique is due to hold local elections in November, with presidential and parliamentary elections set to take place next year.