Protection Vessels International: Weekly Maritime Security Report

Somalia: Puntland calls on NATO to combat illegal fishing after hijacking

20 March

Puntland’s Vice President Abdihakim Abdullahi Omar requested that NATO warships work to combat illegal fishing in the region, following the hijacking of the Aris 13 bunkering tanker on 13 March, which marked the first successful hijacking of a major commercial vessel in the region since May 2012. Omar warned that there could be further hijackings if illegal fishing, a major local grievance, continues. Puntland forces said that they successfully secured the release of the eight Sri Lankan crew kidnapped, following negotiations with the pirates led by local elders on 16 March.

Somalia: Update: Puntland forces secure release of hijack victims

16 March

The pirates who successfully hijacked the Aris 13 bunkering tanker on 13 March released eight Sri Lankan crew members in Alula, following negotiations with Puntland maritime forces, who had threatened to use force to free the hostages, according to NGO Oceans Beyond Piracy. Details of the offer were not disclosed although the Sri Lankan government stated no ransom was paid and they were released unconditionally. Puntland forces had said an unnamed regional governor led the negotiations and the release came after an exchange of fire between the coast guard and gunmen thought to be supplying the pirates with provisions earlier on 16 March. The pirates had claimed to be fishermen protesting illegal fishing in the area, although the EU Naval Force stated ransom demands had been made following the hijacking.

Somalia: Update: Security forces exchange gunfire with pirates on oil tanker

16 March

According to officials, Somali maritime forces exchanged gunfire with pirates on the hijacked oil tanker in Puntland. The military said that pirates on board the tanker fired at security forces, who were attempting to intercept a boat supplying the oil tanker. The pirates claimed that they killed one member of the marine forces, a claim the military denied. Pirates had hijacked the oil tanker on 13 March, marking the first hijacking of a vessel off the coast of Somalia since 2012.

PGI Analysis: The crew’s release comes after Puntland maritime forces made a series of threats of violence against the hijackers and engaged in a shootout with their suspected associates, indicating the abductees were released under duress, rather than voluntarily. Although the pirates behind the attack have repeatedly claimed to be disgruntled fishermen, Somali pirates have historically used the guise of fishermen acting against illegal fishing to gain local support. Furthermore, the EU Naval Force’s (EUNAVFOR) confirmation that they demanded a ransom, and the fact that the target of the attack was a bunkering tanker rather than an illegal fishing vessel, further undermines these claims.

The success of the attack is likely to alert former pirate groups that many vessels are failing to implement counter-piracy measures such as BMP4 and the use of armed guards on vessels, which could see an uptick in attacks against vessels off the Somali coast.

Southeast Asia

Indonesia: Robber attempts to board tanker off Dumai

19 March

Duty crew on board a tanker noticed a robber attempting to board the vessel using a bamboo stick and attached to a hook, 0.8 nm off Pulat Rupat off Dumai at 0320 hrs local time. Duty crew raised the alarm, prompting the robber to abort the attempt and move away from the vessel.

Philippines: Robbers steal from tanker at Batangas Anchorage

14 March

Robbers stole ship’s properties from a chemical tanker anchored off Batangas Anchorage at 0215 hrs local time, before fleeing unnoticed. Duty crew found the forepeak store lock broken before the theft was discovered.

PGI Analysis: Robbers often target Philippine and Indonesian anchorages, particularly overnight when visibility is reduced. Confrontations with assailants can turn violent as robbers are often armed and sometimes willing to use force. The last reported robbery at Batangas was in January, although other incidents may have gone unreported.

Philippines: Joint patrols against Sulu Sea kidnap threat to begin in April

13 March

The navies of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines will begin joint patrols of the Sulu Sea in April with the aim of fighting the threat of kidnapping by Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf (ASG). Malaysian naval chief Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman said the maritime cooperation is unprecedented and reflects the trust enjoyed between the regional neighbours. The measures will also involve air patrols of the sea and coastlines.

PGI Analysis: Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have repeatedly pledged to implement joint patrols since the rise in kidnappings targeting vessels in the Sulu Sea in March 2016. The group perpetrating the abductions, Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), have turned to targeting large commercial vessels since October 2016, demonstrating an increased capacity to successfully kidnap crew from larger and faster vessels, although the majority of attacks still target tugs and other slow moving vessels. ASG use kidnap for ransom as their main source of revenue and often behead abductees if ransom demands are not met by their deadline.

Select Maritime News

Australia: Canberra calls on ASEAN to disregard Beijing’s South China Sea claims

16 March

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called on the ASEAN nations to use The Hague’s ruling in July 2016 rejecting China’s territorial claims to the South China Sea as a basis for “code of conduct”. The statement essentially calls on the Southeast Asian countries which also have claims to islands in the disputed waters to disregard China’s “nine-dash line”, amid heightened tensions over Chinese military build-ups in the Paracel and Spratly island chains. Australia said it wanted to see a de-escalation of tensions. The ruling by The Hague came after a formal complaint by the Philippines against Beijing.

China: Authorities rescue 13 from burning oil tanker off Shandong province

20 March

Local marine disaster response teams rescued 13 crew from a burning oil tanker which was sailing about 140 km off Shandong province’s Shidao, in the East China Sea. The Xinglongzhou 569 caught fire after a reported explosion around 1700 hrs local time. Three people remain missing. The vessel was towed to the port of Shidao.

China: Coal import ban leaves 10 North Korean ships stranded

17 March

According to a report by Voice of America, at least 10 North Korean ships have been stranded at a Chinese port for three weeks due to China’s ban on imports of North Korean coal. The North Korean vessels entered the port of Longkou, Shandong province, and have been moored at the port since early March fully laden with coal cargo. Another four ships returned home to the port of Nampo after being rejected. Beijing announced on 19 February it would ban coal shipments from Pyongyang as part of efforts to comply with UN sanctions against the country.

Indonesia: Jakarta summons British ambassador over reef damage by UK cruise ship

17 March

Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan has summoned the British Ambassador to Indonesia Moazzam Malik over the damage that was caused to one of the country’s top coral reef destinations by a UK cruise ship in early March. Indonesia has taken the incident as a major criminal action and is set to press charges against the cruise ship operator. The Caledonia Sky crashed into a reef at low tide near Kri, Papua province. The British ambassador said he hoped the dispute would be resolved quickly and expressed disappointment over the incident.

Indonesia: Ship detained by Indonesian authorities was within Singaporean waters

15 March

The vessel Seven Seas Conqueress, which was detained by Indonesian authorities on 20 August 2016, was in Singaporean waters off Pedra Branca when it was seized, according to the Singaporean foreign office. Nine Singaporean passengers were detained and later released on 1 September, but the captain and the vessel remain in Indonesian custody. Singapore has criticised Jakarta for the incident, and said there was no basis for Indonesia’s detention of the vessel or for charges to be brought against the captain at the Tanjung Pinang District Court. Singapore has reportedly sent six diplomatic protests to Jakarta over the issue without any concession by Indonesia.

Libya: Turkish vessel sinks off Misrata

16 March

According to local media, a Turkish cargo vessel carrying marble blocks to Misrata sank while it was waiting to unload, killing eight sailors. The cause of the sinking was reportedly severe weather conditions. Libyan Coast Guard forces rescued five other sailors.

Malta: Customs authorities seize 350 kg of cocaine at Malta Freeport

20 March

Maltese customs inspectors seized 350 kg of cocaine at Malta Freeport, marking the biggest confiscation in Malta’s history. Malta’s Customs Department said the cocaine was discovered in hold-all bags in a container supposedly transporting cans of pineapple. The ship carrying the contraband was on a stopover in its journey from Ecuador to Spain.

Philippines: Manila to boost military facilities in South China Sea

17 March

Defence Minister Delfin Lorenzana has said the government will strengthen its military facilities on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, amid an ongoing dispute with China over jurisdiction of the Spratly islands and Scarborough Shoal. Lorenzana announced plans to build new ports and airstrips on eight outposts including Thuti reef, near Subi reef, which China is accused of militarising in recent years. The build-up plans come despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s aim upon coming to power in June 2016 to find a resolution to the dispute and end the military escalation in the sea. China has continued to build infrastructure on Scarborough Shoal despite numerous protests by Manila.

Philippines: Abu Sayyaf militants kill kidnapped Vietnamese sailor

16 March

Islamist militant group Abu Sayyaf shot and killed a Vietnamese sailor, kidnapped off the coast of Pearl Bank on 19 February. Abu Sayyaf reported the sailor had attempted to escape his captors at an undisclosed location. The sailor was one of six people kidnapped on 19 February. Abu Sayyaf regularly abducts people in the southern regions of the Philippines.

Thailand: Protesters block hearing on Pak Bara port project in Satun

17 March

Hundreds of locals staged a sit-in protest and demonstration overnight on 16-17 March, shutting down the community hearing on the proposals for the Pak Bara deep-sea terminal in Satun province. The government sent troops to secure the venue, although the forces failed to move the protesters, forcing authorities to cancel the hearing. The protesters said the terminal would damage the environment and demanded a survey of the impact of the project before it could go ahead.

Singapore: Coast guard arrests four Bangladeshis attempting to illegally reach city-state

14 March

Four Bangladeshi men attempting to swim to Singapore from Malaysian waters were arrested by the Police Coast Guard (PCG) for unlawful entry into the city-state, the Straits Times reported. The men were detected in the sea off Sungei Tuan, which are Malaysian territorial waters, at 0022 hrs local time. Those who overstay or enter Singapore illegally can be jailed for up to six months and receive up to three strokes of the cane, according to the newspaper.

Ukraine: Moscow begins large-scale military drill in Crimea

20 March

Russia has started a large-scale drill, involving three units of Airborne Forces, Aerospace Forces and the Black Sea Fleet, in Crimea, allegedly to train against the “increased terrorist threat”, the Russian state news agency TASS reported. The drill in the annexed peninsula is reportedly being closely monitored by the Ukrainian navy, which is stationed in the Black Sea.

United States: Justice Department charges nine more navy officials in corruption scandal

14 March

The US Justice Department indicted nine current and former navy officials, including an admiral, in a bribery case. The personnel are accused of taking bribes from a Malaysian businessman at a Singapore-based defence-contracting firm, who defrauded the navy of tens of millions of dollars. A total of 25 military officers and private sector executives have now been prosecuted in the case, which is one of the worst corruption scandals to affect the military in recent years.

Vietnam: Beijing starts new construction work on disputed Paracel island

14 March

According to new satellite footage by private firm Planet Labs, the Chinese military has started new construction work on North Island in the disputed Paracel island chain, after initial construction work was damaged in a typhoon in 2016. The pictures show land clearing and possible preparation for a harbour at the island, while other work is ongoing at nearby Tree Island. The Paracels are claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, and China’s militarisation of many islands has heightened tensions in the region.

Yemen: Coalition calls for UN oversight of Hodeidah port

19 March

The Saudi-led coalition called for Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah to be placed under the supervision of the UN. The coalition said that this would facilitate the flow of humanitarian goods through the port, which is currently held by rival Houthi rebels. The coalition statement on Hodeidah also confirmed that the alliance was aware of claims that a Saudi-led helicopter had attacked a vessel carrying Somali refugees near the port days earlier. In that incident, more than 40 Somali refugees were shot dead, prompting Somalia to demand an investigation.
Source: Protection Vessels International