Some recent incidents involving vessels off the Horn of Africa do not seem to reflect traditional forms of piracy, and could signal major maritime disruptions if an effective response is not developed. OBP has issued report highlighting and classifying this kind of incidents, with the aim to determine the nature of the emerging threats in the region, and the potential role of the maritime counter-piracy framework to address these threats.
Specifically, recent security incidents targeted at both military and commercial vessels in the Horn of Africa may indicate an evolving maritime threat that could lead to major maritime disruptions, particularly in the Bab el Mandeb. The full scope of the risks stemming from these attacks remains uncertain due to ambiguity surrounding the incidents, but it is clear that some of the attacks do not reflect traditional forms of piracy, for which effective responses have been developed. What can be ascertained is that there is an insecure maritime environment in the region that could potentially require the modification of current security measures to address the changing nature of the threats, specifically if they reflect conflict-related risks and maritime terrorism.
Since the beginning of October 2016, several serious incidents against commercial and military vessels have occurred in the Bab el Mandeb strait, the Gulf of Aden, and off of the Somali coast. OBP has highlighted and classified six of these reported incident reports within the categories of:
- conflict-related violence, and
- maritime terrorism.
At least two piracy-related attacks have been reported through open sources, though unconfirmed by military authorities. Furthermore, four notable attacks on vessels near the Horn of Africa took place in the latter portion of 2016 that reflect a growing trend of maritime insecurity near Yemeni territory, specifically in the Bab el Mandeb and lower Red Sea. The incidents hint that both sides in the conflict may be looking to disrupt maritime support.
Based on recently reported attacks against commercial vessels in October, a possible terrorist threat to commercial vessels in the Bab el Mandeb is worth further examination. If maritime terrorism is confirmed as a legitimate threat, there could be vast security implications for the shipping community. This would require the industry to adapt to a complex set of threats that would differ significantly from piracy attack profiles. As a consequence, this could significantly impact the use of security teams in the Bab el Mandeb area in that they would require more flexible rules of engagement to counter the threat of terrorism.
While counter-piracy measures have been recommended as an effective way to combat the recent attacks, these measures need to be further evaluated to determine whether they are sufficient to counter the emerging threats or if they must be altered to better address the situation in the Horn of Africa.
Further details may be found in the report herebelow