The U.S. Maritime Administration (MarAd) has issued a revised advisory warning that regional conflict, heightened military activity and increased political tensions continue to pose threats to U.S.-flag merchant vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, Bab el-Mandeb Strait, Red Sea and western Indian Ocean.
U.S. Maritime Advisory 2023-003 further states that threats may come from a number of different sources including, but not limited to: unmanned aerial vehicles; limpet mines; explosive boats; pirates; and armed robbers.
With little or no warning, vessels operating in these areas may also encounter navigation or communication disruptions, such as GPS interference, AIS spoofing and bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, the advisory states.
MarAd recommends vessels operating in this area to review their security measures, ensure their AIS is transmitting at all times, except in extraordinary circumstances, consistent with the provisions of SOLAS, and monitor VHF channel 16.
Furthermore, the following guidance is provided:
• Conduct a pre-voyage risk assessment and incorporate appropriate protective measures into vessel security plans.
• Take advice from available industry guidance, such as “Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Security in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea” (BMP5) — recommended risk-mitigating measures published by BIMCO, ICS, Intertanko, Intercargo, and OCIMF in January 2021 — and bridge reference cards produced by the International Maritime Security Construct.
• Maintain a vigilant lookout at all times, particularly when at anchor, operating in restricted maneuvering environments. or proceeding at slow speeds. Pay attention to the vessel’s waterline and look for suspicious activity, such as approaching swimmers or small boats.
• Avoid entering or loitering near Yemen’s ports, and exercise increased caution if entering Yemen’s territorial waters or Saudi territorial waters in the Red Sea.
• Establish and remain in contact with the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) office, as per BMP5. Immediately report any incident or suspicious activity.
• Answer all VHF calls from coalition navies.
Like MarAd, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) encourages masters and shipowners to adhere to the recommendations in BMP5 and emphasizes the importance of maintaining a 24-hour visual and radar watch.
An early sighting/detection of an approaching skiff will enable an accurate assessment, allowing the master and any privately contracted armed security personnel to make informed decisions to keep clear of small boats, dhows and fishing vessels — and, if necessary, take evasive actions and request assistance as needed.
The IMB PRC reminds masters that fishermen in this region may try to protect their nets by attempting to aggressively approach merchant vessels, and some of the fishermen may be armed to protect their catch. They should not be confused with pirates.
Ship operators and masters are likely aware of the industry’s decision to remove the Indian Ocean High Risk Area for piracy as of Jan. 1, 2023. However, threat and risk assessments should still be conducted after this date and best management practices followed to continue to mitigate the risks presented by remaining security threats in the region.
Furthermore, the Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) administered by the UKMTO has not changed. Ships entering the VRA are encouraged to continue to report to the UKMTO and register with the Maritime Security Center for the Horn of Africa in accordance with the BMP5.