On 8 February 2017, the LPG tanker GAZ PROVIDENCE was attacked and boarded by pirates in the Bight of Bonny, 40 nautical miles south of Bonny Island, Nigeria. The vessel was approached by a motor skiff with armed men on board. The crew on board the vessel managed to send out a distress signal to the local authorities and the Nigerian Navy. The Nigerian navy dispatched the navy ship Okpabana to the scene, rescuing the vessel and all 21 crewmembers on board. All crewmembers have been reported safe. The pirates managed to flee the scene after stealing some valuables and cash. They did not cause sufficient damage to the vessel. The vessel headed to Port Harcourt, where it will be inspected before returning to service. An investigation of the incident is currently underway.
This incident comes after pirates kidnapped seven Russians and one Ukrainian crewmember after they attacked the cargo vessel BBC CARIBBEAN off the coast of Nigeria. The attack was confirmed late on 7 February 2017.
MS Risk continues to warn that the Gulf of Guinea region, and particularly waters off Nigeria, remain dangerous, and the threat of attack, hijacking and kidnapping remains very high.
Any vessels transiting this region are advised to remain on high alert at all times. Masters should increase watches and identify national assets in the region, such as warships or coast guard vessels that could be contacted in the event of an emergency. Crewmembers should remain vigilant and on the look out for any suspect vessels and actions should be taken in order to prepare all crewmembers in the event of an attack.
After several weeks of relative calm in this region, these two attacks are likely to encourage other pirate incidents.
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.
On 27 November 2016, reports emerged of suspicious activity involving MV Saronic Breeze in position 05°09’00”N – 002°37’22”E (Cotonou outer roads).
The vessel had been travelling south however it changed direction to head back into port and now has been drifting in position 04°41’50”N – 003°30’15”E since 282000ZNOV16. The owner of the vessel received the SSAS and tried to contact the vessel however no response was received. Maritime officials strongly believe that the vessel is under piracy attack and that pirates have taken control of it. Port control has been informed about the incident however no information has been received.
In a statement today, Maersk announced that they had provided a letter of undertaking relating to a original 10-year old cargo case that resulted in last week’s seizure of container vessel Maersk Tigris by Iranian Authorities. Maersk added, “We are continuing to do everything we can to assist in the safe release of the crew and vessel.”
On 28 April, Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces boarded the Maersk Tigris, a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf. The container ship had been following a normal commercial route, sailing from the Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, bound for the UAE port of Jebel Ali. The vessel was anchored off the Iranian coast between the islands of Qeshm and Hormuz when Iranian patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters. The vessel issued a distress call which was received by US forces operating in the region. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps naval units seized the vessel and its crew. The vessel’s manager, Singapore-based Rickmers Shipmanagement, reported that there were 24 crew members, mostly from Eastern Europe and Asia. Maersk reported on 29 April that the crew on board are safe and “in good spirits.” The carrier remains in close contact with the Danish Foreign Ministry.
Iranian maintains that the ship’s seizure is a civil matter with no military or political dimension.
Two reports have emerged regarding the reasons for the ship’s capture. Financial Times and other sources report that the ship was taken as the result of a 2005 incident in which ten shipping containers were delivered by Maersk to Dubai for Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. The containers were disposed of when no one came forward to claim them. In the initial legal proceedings, Iranian courts found in favour of Maersk, but a February 2015 appeal overturned the ruling, fining Maersk $3.6 million. Maersk claims it was unaware of the appeal.
Meanwhile, Hellenic Shipping News has reported information from Hamidreza Jahanian, managing-Director of Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company. Jahanian reports that the seizure stems from a 2003 dispute wherein “a number of containers sent by Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company through the Maersk Line Shipping Company were not delivered to the customer in Jebel Ali in 2003.” He adds that Maersk had some differences with its representative in Iran, and “refrained from delivering the goods to the customer.” Jahanian states that Pars Tala’eyeh Oil Products Company filed a lawsuit, and the court ruled in favour of the Iranian company. They maintain that Maersk owes $10 million, the estimated amount the company incurred in losses.
Iran’s Port and Maritime Organization (IPMO) sanctioned the vessel’s detention following the court ruling. The Iranian company has warned that vessel could be put up for auction if compensation is not paid by Maersk. Maersk demanded legal documentation from Iran regarding the ship’s seizure. As of 4 May, the company says it had not received written confirmation of court rulings or the ship arrest warrant. A statement from Maersk reads, “We have […] not received any written notification or similar pertaining to the claim or the seizure of the vessel. We are therefore not able to confirm whether or not this is the actual reason behind the seizure. We will continue our efforts to obtain more information.”
Lawyers have stated that maritime law allows a nation to arrest a foreign ship based on this type of dispute under certain conditions: the ship needs to be in port, and the seized ship must be the ship against which the claim was filed.
With regard to the 2005 case, the Maersk Tigris was not the ship in question, nor was it at port. Maersk Tigris was in international waters when warning shots were fired, and the vessel was instructed to sail into Iranian waters. Further, despite the name, the Maersk Tigris is not owned by Maersk; it is chartered by them. The vessel is owned by private equity fund Oaktree Capital Management. Therefore, its seizure cannot be used to settle the claim against Maersk. Finally, there are no grounds which allow Iran to detain the vessel’s crew. As such, many have stated that the taking of the vessel is a violation of international maritime law.
The situation is expected to be resolved in the coming days. Iranian state-run news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as telling a news conference, “The negotiations between the private complainant and the other party are going on and possibly the issue will be resolved in a day or two.”
ROME — Italian authorities took control Tuesday of a cargo ship carrying hundreds of migrants after the crew disappeared and set it on a programmed route to crash into a coast, officials said.
The alarm was first raised about the Moldovan-flagged Blue Sky M after a passenger sent a distress call earlier Tuesday when the ship was off Greece. Greek authorities scrambled a navy frigate and helicopter, but the captain said the vessel wasn’t in distress and didn’t require assistance.
The ship then headed on its own toward Italy. As it neared Santa Maria di Leuca, on the southernmost tip of the “heel” of boot-shaped Italy, Italian port authorities dispatched two helicopters as a precaution and boarded the ship with a team of six coast guard officials.
Coast guard spokesman Cmdr. Filippo Marini said the team took control of the ship after determining there was no crew to be found. He said the Italians “avoided disaster” by interrupting the programmed route that would have had the ship crash into shore.
He said the motor had been blocked, and that the Italian crew was trying to unblock it so that it could be safely brought into port.
Tens of thousands of migrants and refugees, most fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, attempt to reach the European Union each year, most heading by sea to Italy or Greece.
The smugglers who organize the trips often abandon the ships before they reach shore to avoid arrest.
The operation came two days after a Greek-operated ferry caught fire between Greece and Italy with the loss of at least 11 lives, prompting a two-day search and rescue effort.