31 January, 2017– An attack on a Saudi warship west of Hudaydah Port has left two crew members killed and three injured. Al Masira TV, a Houthi-controlled station, has broadcast what appears to be footage of the attack on Yemen’s western coast.
Rebel sources told Al Masira that guided missiles were used in the attack; however, a statement by Saudi authorities says that three “suicide boats” approached the frigate. One of the suicide boats reportedly collided with the rear of frigate, exploding and causing a fire.
The attacks come as coalition forces continue “Operation Golden Spear,” which began on 7 January 2017. Operation Golden Spear will see coalition forces advancing northward along Yemen’s western coast to drive Houthi rebels out of Hudaydah and other Red Sea ports. The coalition has warned that the Houthis may be using Hudaydah as a launch-pad for terrorist operations that could hamper international navigation and the flow of humanitarian and medical necessities into Yemen.
Saba news agency, part of which taken over by the Houthis in January 2015, cited a military source as saying, “The targeting of this warship comes within the framework of the legal right of Yemen to defend the homeland and its sovereignty.”
The attack comes ten days after a statement reportedly made by the Yemeni navy, coastal defense and coastguard, which warned that the forces are prepared to respond to aggression, should Saudi warships in international waters bomb civilian targets in the country. The statement also warned that merchant vessels in international water land require Long Range Tracking and Identification (LRIT) for safe navigation. In October, the Houthis were accused of firing missiles at a US warship and a UAE chartered logistics ship.
In a separate event, al Masira reports on Tuesday morning, Houthi fighters launched a missile at a coalition military base on the island of Zuqar, situated between Yemen and Eritrea on the Red Sea. There is currently no information regarding damages or casualties, nor confirmation from the Saudi-led coalition. South of Hudaydah, fierce fighting is reported to be ongoing at the port city of Mokha.
MS Risk continues to advise extreme caution for vessels traveling through Bab Al Mandab, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In October, MS Risk warned that the battle in Yemen could change in trajectory, causing greater impact on the maritime navigation through the Bab al Mandab Strait. According to reports, Hudaydah port remains operation, however this is subject to change. The Saudi-led coalition has not yet given any indication of its next steps, however as they continue to push northward along Yemen’s coast, there is a likelihood of potential shore-to-ship, or water-borne attacks, or retaliatory responses. This could result in disruption of shipping routes, or possible damage to vessels.
Ship owners and masters are urged stay abreast of the conflict and to carry out a risk assessment prior to entering Bab al Mandab or Yemeni waters. Seek up-to-the-moment, reliable information from local sources and remain vigilant. Crew members are urged to report unusual or potentially hostile activity to coalition naval forces via the following methods:
VHF: Channel 16
All vessels must adhere to UN and Coalition-led inspections.
United Nations Inspections
The UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM) is operational for commercial imports to Yemen.
Shipping companies or owners delivering to ports not under the control of the Government of Yemen must apply for permits upon departing from the port of origin of their cargo. Yemen-based importers/traders are required to submit this notification form. More information about the UNVIM program is available here: https://www.vimye.org/home.
Vessels applying to go to ports under the control of the Government of Yemen need obtain permission for entry from the Yemeni Ministry of Transport. This should be done through the ship’s agent and/or receivers prior to the vessel’s arrival. The form should be completed by the ship’s master and sent directly to the Ministry of Transport.
Saudi Coalition Inspections
All vessels calling at Yemeni ports will only be allowed to enter Yemeni territorial waters following an inspection by the Saudi Arabian coalition forces. Upon arrival outside Bab Al-Mandab, the shipmaster should call the naval forces of the Saudi Arabian coalition by VHF on channel 16 for the arrival registration, and indicate his location (ideally three miles from Bab Al Mandab). Coalition authorities will advise on the anchor position until they provide final approval to enter the port. This procedure will not take more than 48 hours.
Coalition inspectors do not conduct investigation with the crew; contact will be with the ship’s master or Chief Officer about the cargo and documents. Once the vessel is permitted into Yemeni ports, the Master will be required to call port control by VHF on channel 14 or 16 for the arrival registration. The shipmaster will be advised the anchor position until the Harbour master confirms berthing prospects.
Coalition forces require AIS to be kept on at all times. The situation is subject to change and vessels should check frequently with local sources for any changes.
The United Nations in December appealed for a record US $22.2 billion to provide aid in 2017 to surging number of people that have been affected by conflicts and disasters around the world.
Speaking at a press conference, UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien disclosed that it is “the highest amount we have ever requested,” noting that the figure “…is a reflection of a state of human needs in the world not witnessed since the Second World War.” He went on to say that more than 80 percent of the needs come from manmade conflicts “many of which are now protracted and push up demand for relief year after year.”
The global appeal by UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations aims to gather funds to help the 92.8 million most vulnerable of the nearly 129 million people who are expected to require assistance across 33 countries in 2017. The numbers are staggering, particularly when considering that three war-ravaged countries – Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – alone account for about a third of all those in need. In a report, O’Brien disclosed that “with persistently escalating humanitarian needs, the gap between what has to be done to save and protect more people today and what humanitarians are financed to do and can access is growing wider,” nothing that “climate change, natural disasters are likely to become more frequent, more severe,” which will in turn make matters worse.
The Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 300,000 people since march 2011 and forced more than half the population to flee, is set to absorb the biggest portion of the funds, with the UN disclosing that it wants a full US $3.4 billion to go towards helping those inside Syria, and another US $4.7 billion destined for refugees and their hose communities in the region. Second in line is South Sudan, which has been wracked by a civil war since 2013 and where the UN warned last month “ethnic cleansing” is taking place. The UN is planning to spend a total of US $2.5 billion to help South Sudanese in need, including US $1.2 billion for refugees from the country. The UN has indicated that US $1.9 billion should go towards helping the victims of Yemen’s brutal civil war, which has escalated dramatically in the wake of the intervention of a Saudi-led coalition in March 2015.
Aid needs have been rising steadily for decades and when the UN launched its first global appeal 25 years ago, it estimated that just US $2.7 billion would cover aid needs around the globe in 1992. However in the last few years, the situation has worsened dramatically, with O’Brien stating “humanitarian needs continue to rise and humanitarian efforts are hampered by reduced access, growing disrespect for human rights and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.”
The new report highlighted “severely constrained” humanitarian access in places like Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, which is “leaving affected people without basic services and protection.” The report further stats “mines, explosives, remnants of war and improvised explosive devices impede humanitarian aces and threaten the lives of vulnerable populations in conflict-affected regions.”
This year’s sum tops the US $20.1 billion that was requested last December for 2016, when, according to O’Brien, “humanitarian actors have saved, protected and supported more people than in any previous year since the founding of the United Nations.” In the end, the UN broadened its 2016 appeal to US $22.1 billion, however donors only produced US $11.4 billion for aid projects this year.
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.
A country destroyed by war, almost entirely eclipsed by the conflict in Syria. Referred to as the forgotten war due to its lack of media attention, the situation in Yemen is dire.
In Yemen, 80% of the population need humanitarian aid.
Yemen’s situation is a complex one. It is not simply one conflict; it is mixed with and indistinguishable from conflicts of the past. This is a likely cause for its lack of media attention: there is no clear bad guy and no good versus evil story to tell the public. Leaving the Yemeni people to suffer in silence.
The issue can be followed back to the Arab Spring. Following the Tunisian revolution in 2011, there was a call for change in Yemen. The then President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted and replaced by his deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi on February 27th 2012. At this time Yemen was plagued with many domestic issues including separatist movements in the South, terrorism and extreme poverty. Houthi rebels used this time of instability to occupy large areas of the country. The Houthi are a Shia Muslim group made up of around 40% of Yemen’s Muslims. The rebels seized the capital and caused President Hadi to flee and call for support in March 2015. In response to the uprising, and because of accusations of links to Iran, Saudi Arabia began a campaign, with assistance from the US, the UK, France and eight other Arab states. Their goal, they claimed, was to drive out rebel forces and reinstate Hadi.
The future of Yemen is unclear; the war rages on with no visible end. Peace talks come and go. Ultimately, after nineteen months of constant battle, the country is near the edge of collapse. The UN estimates the war has killed 10,000 Yemeni people and over 36,000 have been injured, but there are fears this number could be much higher. Even before the conflict, the country, with a population of nearly 28 million is larger than Syria, was the poorest in the Middle East. Now, over 14 million are described as food insecure, with 1.5 million children suffering from malnutrition. Before the war, 90% of Yemen’s food came from outside its borders. Now, Saudi blockades and rebel sieges on cities are restricting supplies getting to civilians. Alongside this, the Yemeni heath system is heavily damaged and war survivors are facing different threats. 10,000 children under five years old have died from preventable diseases since the war began. Less than half of the health facilities remain open and there is a severe shortage of doctors. In the capital, Sana’a, less than half of the residents are connected to the water supply. Even then, the water only runs one every four days. In some cities in the South, water comes once a month. Another threat to the people of Yemen is a recent cholera outbreak that has over 2000 suspected cases.
There is a glimmer of hope for the people Yemen, the World Bank has pledged to commit $400 million of aid to Yemen, starting immediately. But, for the next generation of Yemeni children, where over 3.4 million have been forced out of education and the only employment is behind the barrel of a gun, the future looks bleak.
Executive Summary – Tensions Flaring in Waters Around Yemen
Media reports have been relating recent events involving shore to ship attack attempts against US naval vessels patrolling in Yemeni waters. These follow a previous successful attack against a UAE logistics vessel, which saw it damaged and withdrawn from the Saudi-led campaign. The attacks are believed to have been carried out by Houthi rebels although they have strenuously denied any involvement. The most recent strikes are believed by some to be retaliation for the Saudi air strike that killed at least 140 mourners at a funeral in Sanaa on 8th October 2016. These incidents have resulted in the US Navy launching counter measures to defend themselves and conducting their own missile strikes against shore based radar sites believed to have been directing the original Houthi attacks. Iranian warships are deploying into the theatre and this is serving to ratchet tensions further. The Iranian deployment was planned and announced earlier but is now being linked to developing events.
Merchant vessels transiting the region should expect to see increased military naval and air traffic. Masters should be vigilant when cruising within range of landfall and be prepared for contact with combatant parties. Vessels moving to or from Yemeni ports must ensure situational awareness at all times and comply carefully with military instructions. MS Risk continues to monitor events and will be issuing in depth insights and forecasts in the coming days.