Houthi rebels are holding a ‘floating bomb’ oil tanker hostage off Yemen’s coast   Leave a comment

The unmaintained FSO Safer off Yemen's Red Sea coast has been described as a "floating bomb", pictured in March 2005. Getty
The unmaintained FSO Safer off Yemen’s Red Sea coast has been described as a “floating bomb”, pictured in March 2005. Getty

Houthi rebels are blocking UN access to an unmaintained oil tanker described as a “floating bomb” off of Yemen’s Red Sea coast, which officials say is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.

The chief of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels is demanding a share of revenue from the sale of about one million barrels of oil aboard the FSO Safer.

The UN warned almost a month ago that the ship was at risk of exploding, possibly causing a disastrous oilspill in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

It is a dangerous bargaining chip worth tens of millions of dollars.

The Safer, once Yemen’s main oil export facility, is a floating storage and offloading vessel moored about 50 kilometres north-west of Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah, the entry point for most of the war-racked country’s humanitarian aid and imports.

The Safer has had no maintenance since it fell under Houthi control in 2015, allowing explosive gases to build up in its storage tanks.

Experts and Yemeni ministers have been warning for more than a year that the vessel needs urgent maintenance, with a report by the US think tank the Atlantic Council calling it a floating bomb.

A rupture could unleash a catastrophe four times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oilspill that poured 260,000 barrels of crude into Prince William Sound Alaska.

“Without maintenance, we fear that it will rupture or even explode, unleashing an environmental disaster,” the UN’s humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on April 15.

Mr Lowcock said that Houthi approval to carry out an assessment of the vessel have been pending since last September.

In 1988, Yemen’s national Safer Exploration and Production Operations Company (Sepoc) moored a former Japanese oil tanker 9km off the coast at Ras Isa, a Red Sea port, linking it by pipeline to the Marib oil field in central Yemen. Described by the company that installed it as the largest FSO system in the world, the Safer has a capacity of three million barrels of oil and until 2015 served as Yemen’s main export route for light crude.

The ageing vessel is susceptible to corrosion and needs about $10 million (Dh3.6m) in annual maintenance.

Inert gas must be regularly injected into the storage tanks to prevent the accumulation of explosive gases. Without fuel to run its generators, this has not happened in years.

A stray spark, collision or sabotage attack could cause the vessel to explode.

In March last year, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalik Al Mekhlafi wrote to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, warning that the Safer was in a “bad and deteriorating situation” that threatened an “imminent environmental and humanitarian catastrophe”.

On April 29, Col Turki Al Malki, spokesman for the Arab Coalition against the Houthis, warned that the Safer posed a serious risk of oilspill to the Red Sea.

The Houthis agree the vessel poses a threat but they have asked the UN to arrange the sale of oil so they can use the revenues to pay for fuel imports and public salaries.

The head of the Houthis’ Supreme Revolutionary Committee, Mohammed Al Houthi, warned on Twitter on April 22 of the risk to the environment and marine transport posed by the Safer.

On April 30, he wrote: “We call on the UN and the Security Council to put in place a mechanism to sell Yemeni crude oil, including the oil in the Safer.

But a Yemeni oil expert told The National that the condition of the vessel meant it was now unlikely that it could safely offload the oil from where it is moored.

“The solution is to tow the Safer to Bahrain” where the vessel can be safely repaired, Yemeni economist Abdulwahed Al Obaly said.

Both Houthi and government areas of Yemen are suffering from a lack of fuel and cash, with24.1 million Yemenis in need of aid and 13 million on the brink of famine.

The fuel aboard could be worth $80m at current prices.

“Fuel shortages in Yemen continue to add to the appalling humanitarian cost of the conflict,” said Doug Weir, a director at the Conflict and Environment Observatory, which wrote a report into the environmental risks of the Safer.

“However, the use of the FSO Safer as a bargaining chip carries with it a serious risk of miscalculation.

“All of the indications suggest that it poses a grave and imminent threat to the marine environment, and it is critical for parties to the conflict to reach agreement on an independent UN-led assessment as a first step in mitigating the risks that it poses.

The UN contracted a company to carry out an initial technical assessment of the vessel last August, but this work is yet to be done. The UN did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But the company contracted to carry out the assessment, Asia Offshore Solutions, said it hoped to begin work shortly.

“We’ve been waiting for the Hodeidah area to be safe enough for our people to go in,” Petter Nilsen, the company’s managing director, told The National.

The delays preventing the UN from accessing the ship also threaten to undermine the Hodeidah agreement, reached in Stockholm in December between the Yemeni government and the Houthis.

The two agreed to “a strengthened UN presence in the city of Hodeidah and Ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa” and “committed to facilitate and support the work of the UN”.

The oil aboard belongs to Yemen’s Ministry of Oil. Even after an assessment is carried out, all parties would need to agree to a salvage operation.

“There’s legal, technical, and business obstacles,” Mr Al Obaly said. “They all need to agree on managing the insurance, what to do with the vessel and the oil, and they need to pay the company that would carry it out.”

But a spill would cause untold environmental damage and the need for a clean-up that could cost $1 billion.

“We must empty the vessel as soon as possible,” Mr Al Obaly said. “It could explode any time just because of the weather and the circumstances.

“It would be a marine catastrophe. The crude would reach the other coast of [Eritrea]. We’ve seen many cases like this, We don’t need to do the same in the Red Sea.”



Posted May 13, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Spanish Navy Rescues Heavy Lift Ship from Pirates   Leave a comment

Spanish and Equatorial Guinea forces secure the Blue Marlin (Estado Mayor de la Defensa)


On Sunday, the heavy lift ship Blue Marlin was hijacked off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. The Spanish Navy and forces from Equatorial Guinea boarded the vessel and secured it early on Monday morning.

After unloading her cargo in the waters of Equatorial Guinea, the Blue Marlin departed Sunday, bound for Malta. On Sunday afternoon, the ship was approached by a zodiac and forcibly boarded by seven armed pirates. All twenty of the Marlin’s crew members were able to secure themselves in the ship’s citadel, which is equipped with communications gear and emergency rations.

After the crew alerted the authorities in Equatorial Guinea and at the NATO-led organization Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade – Gulf of Guinea, two helicopters were mobilized from Equatorial Guinea. The authorities also dispatched the Serviola, a Spanish Navy vessel assigned to patrol the region, and an unnamed frigate from Equatorial Guinea.

At daylight Monday, a team of seven Spanish marines boarded the Marlin and secured the vessel, according to Spain’s defense ministry. A larger team of Spanish and Equatorial Guinea forces followed shortly after. No pirates were found, and the crew were unharmed. However, the attackers had fired off weapons during their boarding, and they badly damaged the Marlin’s bridge, rendering her unsuitable for navigation until repairs are completed.

Both naval vessels have since departed, but Equatorial Guinea’s navy left five armed guards aboard theMarlin to ensure her security. Boskalis says that it has made arrangements for an oceangoing tug to tow theBlue Marlin to a suitable location.

All images courtesy Estado Mayor de la Defensa

“I want to express my compliments to our crew for their extremely professional and adequate actions in this life threatening situation. I am extremely grateful  and in particular thankful to the navy of Equatorial Guinea for their quick and decisive response, as well as to the Spanish navy for their assistance via MDAT-GoG. Because of their actions, this hijacking could be ended quickly and our colleagues were brought into safety,” said Boskalis CEO Peter Berdowski in a statement Monday.

The incident was the second successful anti-piracy intervention that the Serviola has conducted off West Africa this year. In April, the crew of the Serviola detected a hijacking in progress aboard a Nigerian merchant vessel, and the pirate boarding party fled as she approached. The attackers had stolen the crew’s money and possessions while they were aboard, but no seafarers were kidnapped.

The Blue Marlin may be best known for her service to the U.S. Navy: she is the ship that brought home the damaged destroyer USS Cole after a terrorist attack in the port of Aden in 2000.

Posted May 13, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Kidnapped Product Tanker Crewmembers Still in Captivity   Leave a comment

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The six seafarers who were kidnapped at the Bonny Outer Anchorage last month are still missing. Five were Indian nationals, and their families are calling upon the Indian government to intervene.

At 1330 hours in the afternoon of April 19, Nigerian pirates boarded the product tanker Apecus while she lay at anchor just off the coast of Bonny Island, a well-defended oil and gas complex in the Niger River Delta. In broad daylight, the attackers abducted six seafarers and departed. The remaining crewmembers were unharmed, and they navigated their vessel to the Bonny Inner Anchorage.

Relative to areas further offshore, the Bonny anchorage has a more established security presence. The Nigerian Navy maintains a forward operating base on Bonny Island to defend the Bonny Oil Terminal, and the service’s Regional Maritime Awareness Center is located near the Bonny Island approach channel.

The victims, all Indian nationals, have been missing for nearly two weeks. India’s embassy in Nigeria says that it is working closely with the Nigerian Navy and police forces to recover the seafarers.

“Concerned parties have made initial contact. Caution is of utmost importance for everyone’s safety,” said the High Commission of India in Abuja.

According to the Times of India, the seafarers’ families have not yet been able to speak to the abductees and have not received updates on their condition.

Posted May 13, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Pirates Attack Two Fishing Boats off Somalia   Leave a comment

Security team from ESPS Navarra boards the suspected mothership dhow, April 23 (EUNAVFOR)


On Sunday, two fishing vessels were attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The attempted boardings were both thwarted, but security officials said that they represent a reminder that antipiracy measures are still required when transiting the high-risk area off Somalia.

According to EUNAVFOR, the fishing vessels Adria and Txori Argi were both approached by suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean on Sunday at a position about 280 nm off the coast of somalia. Both fishing vessels had private maritime security teams on board, and by exercising unspecified antipiracy best practices, the two attempted attacks were defeated.

EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta confirmed the attacks and said that it is likely that they were facilitated by a hijacked “mothership,” which was reportedly seized by armed men on Friday off the central Somali coast. EUNAVFOR searched the area with aerial assets and dispatches the warship ESPS Navarra from Mombasa. On Tuesday, the Navarra successfully intercepted and boarded the dhow mothership.

EUNAVFOR teams interdict the suspected mothership dhow (EUNAVFOR)

In a statement, EUNAVFOR warned that the maritime industry must still adhere to antipiracy best practices in order to maximize the safety of the ship and crew while transiting the high-risk area. The designated area will be reduced in size in May 2019, but Operation Atalanta commander Rear Adm. Antonio Martorell (Spanish Navy) warned that the change to the chart is not a signal for merchant vessel operators to lower their guard. “Both EU NAVFOR and CMF, stress that piracy off the Horn of Africa is by no means eradicated; it is only suppressed,” he said at a meeting April 23.

Ten years ago, Somali piracy was a continuous, urgent threat in the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. Pirates based on Somalia’s coast routinely conducted hijackings and kidnap-for-ransom operations until 2012, when a combination of private maritime security contractors, vessel hardening measures and NATO naval patrols effectively suppressed the threat. No successful attacks on merchant vessels were reported between 2013 and March 2017, when pirate groups began ramping up activity once more.

Posted April 25, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Nigerian Pirates Open Fire on Anchored Product Tanker   Leave a comment

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On Monday, Nigerian pirates staged a daring attack on a product tanker at an anchorage in the Niger River Delta.

At 2020 hours UTC, four armed attackers in a speedboat approached an unnamed product tanker at the Bonny River Inner Anchorage, just three nautical miles off Bonny Island. They successfully boarded the vessel and opened fire towards the accommodations block with automatic weapons. Nigerian naval guards were on board the tanker, and they returned fire, chasing off the attackers. The crew mustered in the vessel’s citadel and notified the Nigerian Navy of the attack.

One guard was injured in the exchange of fire, and the crew provided him with medical assistance. Two security boats responded to the scene, and one took the injured guard back to shore for medical treatment.

The tanker’s crew were reported safe, according to the IMB ICC.

The Gulf of Guinea – especially the region near the Niger River Delta – is the world’s most active piracy hotspot. In 2018, the Gulf of Guinea accounted for all six hijackings, 13 of the 18 ships fired upon, 130 of the 141 hostages held, and 78 of 83 seafarers kidnapped for ransom worldwide, according to the IMB.

The violence accelerated in the last quarter of the year: 41 kidnappings were recorded off Nigeria between October and December, more than half the annual total. While these statistics are troubling, the actual frequency of piracy incidents in the region may be higher, as the IMB believes that about half of all attacks go unreported.

Posted April 24, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Fewer Armed Robbery Incidents Reported at Indonesian Anchorages   Leave a comment

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file photo


ReCAAP ISC has released it’s quarterly piracy report for Asia showing that there were 10 incidents of armed robbery against ships (including one attempted incident), a 52 percent decrease from the same period last year.

The number of incidents reported during January-March 2019 are also the lowest among the period for the last 13-years (2007-2019).

There were improvements at some ports and anchorages during January-March 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, notably in Indonesia; with three incidents reported in Indonesia during January-March 2019 compared to nine incidents during the same period in 2018. There were also improvements at the ports and anchorages in Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. No were reported for these nations during January-March 2019 compared to three incidents reported in Bangladesh and two incidents each in India and Vietnam during January-March 2018.

Of concern was the increase in the number of incidents at some anchorages in China and incidents of theft of scrap metal from barges while underway in the Singapore Strait.

There were no incidents of abduction of crew for ransom in the Sulu-Celebes Seas and waters off Eastern Sabah during the period, but ReCAAP ISC says the issue remains a serious threat in the area.

ReCAAP ISC reiterates the need for enforcement agencies to enhance surveillance, increase patrols and respond promptly to the reports of incidents. Ship masters and crew are strongly advised to exercise vigilance, maintain all round lookouts, report all incidents to the nearest coastal State and flag State immediately and implement preventive measures recommended in the Regional Guide to Counter Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia.

Posted April 23, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS

Spanish Navy Rescues Seafarers from Nigerian Pirates   Leave a comment

The Serviola’s boarding party approaching the hijacked vessel (Armada Española)


On April 9, the crew of the Spanish Navy patrol vessel Serviola successfully rescued the crew of a Nigerian merchant vessel from a gang of pirates.

The Serviola’s crew observed the Nigerian vessel behaving in an unusual manner for a merchant ship, and they spotted a small boat in its vicinity, raising suspicion. The vessel did not respond to radio calls, so theServiola’s commanding officer launched two small RIBs to investigate. As the Serviola’s launches approached, the small boat fled the scene at high speed.

“As we approached, we found that there was no response and that the boat moved away,” said Capitán de Corbeta Román González-Cela Echevarría, the CO of the Serviola, speaking to Spanish radio service COPE.

When the Serviola’s boarding party reached the merchant ship, its captain told them that the vessel had been hijacked four days ago, and that the Serviola’s rapid approach and continuous radio calls scared off the pirates. According to the captain, the group of pirates consisted of nine attackers armed with AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers. The pirates had pointed their guns at the master and ordered him not to answer theServiola’s VHF calls.

During the hijacking, the pirates stole all of the money and valuables of the 12 members of the ship’s Nigerian crew. The attackers also took a significant portion of the ship’s provisions.

The Serviola remained on scene for one day to provide food and drink to the vessel’s crew. The merchant vessel then made her way to the port of Lagos, and the Serviola resumed her patrol.

According to Capt. Echevarría, the pattern of piracy off Nigeria is different from the modus operandi used by Somali pirates in years past. “They make quick attacks, with the intention of taking everything there is – something that is very different with respect to Somalia, where the boats [were] taken to the waterfront where they then ask for [ransom],” he said.

The Serviola is deployed to the Gulf of Guinea on a train-and-assist mission to defend Spanish interests overseas. The international shipping community has appealed for help from Western powers to provide security assistance off Nigeria, the world’s most dangerous waters for maritime piracy.

Posted April 23, 2019 by rrts in -NEWS