Attacks on Vessels in the Red Sea and Bab el Mandeb Strait
Eleven attacks and suspicious approaches were reported in the Red Sea and Bab al Mandeb over the last year. While the motives for some of these attacks are unclear, most can be attributed to the conflict in Yemen. It seems that ships with a military profile or with a sailing pattern associated with logistical support to either party in the conflict are more likely to be targeted.
Certain vessels fall in a higher risk group. These are:
Vessels involved in operations in support of either side of the Yemeni conflict or vessels following regular routes that could be interpreted as involvement or support in the conflict are likely targets;
Vessels loitering around islands. Islands in the Red Sea are considered strategic positions and loitering or slow moving vessels can be seen as suspicious by forces occupying the islands.
The navy Destroyer, USS Mason reported two failed missile attacks from the Yemeni shore north of Bab el Mandeb on 9 and 12 October 2016.
On 30 January 2017 a Saudi frigate was approached by three small boats approximately 27nm off the port of Al-Hodeidah, Yemen. The frigate was rammed by a suicide boat laden with explosives. Two Saudi crew members died and three were injured as a result of the attack.
Vessels involved in operations in support of either side of the Yemeni conflict or vessels following regular routes that could be interpreted as involvement in the conflict
On 1 October 2016 the Houthis claimed responsibility for a missile attack on the logistics catamaran, HSV-2-Swift near the port of Mokha, Yemen. The attack caused substantial damage but no reported loss of life.
On 3 January 2017 the landing craft, MV Sultan II was attacked 10nm off the Yemeni coast.
Movement of the SULTAN II prior to the attack derived from EMSA IMDatE which utilizes Sat-AIS and LRIT data . (Source EU NAVFOR)
The attack on the MV Sultan II and the HSV-2-Swift had several things in common:
Both operated from the port of Assab on the Eritrean side of the Red Sea. The port was leased to the UAE for a period of 30 years in 2015. The Arab Coalition is using the port as part of their military campaign against the Houthis;
Both vessels are ro-ro landing craft with a similar profile;
Both vessels could be tracked on AIS as they were transmitting live on AIS; and
Both used the same ports regularly with the assumption that they were delivering logistical support to the Arab Coalition. According to reports the HSV-2-Swift was leased by the United Arab Emirates military from the UAE dredging company to transport medical aid and other supplies. The MV Sultan II did several transits between Assab and Perim (Mayyun) Island under Arab Coalition control.
The MV Sultan II and the HSV-2-Swift are both ro-ro landing craft with a similar profile of the SULTAN II
On 3 October 2016 a suspicious approach by six armed men in a skiff was reported by the chemical tanker, MT Nushi Nalini north of Bab el Mandeb. The vessel was enroute from Al- Hodeidah Port to the Arabian Gulf.
On 18 December 2016 a small cargo ship, MV Jouya 8 was attacked near the port of Al-Hodeidah, Yemen. The vessel caught fire and sank.
Activity around islands
In February and July 2016 two attacks occurred approximately 8nm apart off the Jazirat al Hanish al Kabir Island in the Red Sea. Both vessels were moving very slow at the time which may have been seen as suspicious to forces on the island. In December 2015 Saudi led forces took control of the island from the Houthis. The location of these islands is of strategic importance in the Red Sea.
In February 2016 the yacht, Milashka was damaged in a storm in the Red Sea and was seeking shelter on the western side of the Jazirat al Hanish al Kabir (Hanish) Island. The yacht came under fire and was hit by a bullet from a camouflaged position on the island.
On 22 July 2016 the Cable layer vessel, Responder was attacked approximately 5nm WSW of the Hanish Islands. Sixteen men armed with AK47s and an RPG7 fired on the cable layer. The Responder was installing cables at 0.5knots at the time.
Vessels transiting the Bab el Mandeb should remain as far west and south of Yemen as possible and use the western traffic separation scheme. It is advisable to transit the Strait in daylight hours and to maintain best speed. Beware of operations or routes that could be interpreted as involvement or support in the conflict.
Independent Global Incident Analysis