Foiled Port Attack Highlights Threat To Shipping Off Yemen

A plot to blow up pipelines and take control of at least two ports in the south of Yemen may have been thwarted by local authorities, but the incidents further indicate that all shipowners should take this threat extremely seriously, says BIMCO chief security officer Giles Noakes.

Yemeni security forces have been placed on a state of high alert amid fears of an al-Qaeda attack. In the capital, Sanaa, tanks and troops have surrounded foreign missions, government offices and the airport, according to the BBC.

A major UK-flagged shipowner yesterday confirmed to Lloyd’s List the UK Department for Transport’s raising of the International Ship and Port Facility Security threat for British shipping off the coast of Yemen to level three.

Level three is “exceptional”, suggesting a “probable or imminent risk of a security incident” and is the highest level the UK government has issued since the ISPS Code was introduced in 2004.

Due to the increased risk off attack in Yemeni ports, all BIMCO members should review their ISPS Code procedures and ship security plans, Mr Noakes said.

He added: “The bottom line is that ISPS level three means that there is credible information that there is a risk of an attack that is ‘probable or imminent’.”

Mr Noakes strongly recommended vessels calling at Yemeni ports obtain clear information on the ISPS security level at the port and to establish that port state control is able to confirm, in the exchange of security documents, that it can provide the level of cover necessary for the ship to operate while at level three security.

“The UK government is understood to have issued a level three threat for UK-flagged vessels but I cannot see how this is not a risk to any other vessel in the area. The average terrorist I suspect is not very good at recognising one ensign from any other. This is a threat all shipowners should take very seriously,” he warned.

UK Chamber of Shipping head of security and commercial Gavin Simmonds said other flag states would have their own procedures for issuing threat advice to their ships and this might well differ from the UK’s.

Mr Simmonds said he would not comment on the specific UK threat levels issued at any particular time because they are classified.

However, he added that it was important not to confuse the ISPS Code regime, which is counter-terrorist based, with counter-piracy operations or the piracy threat.

“UK operators will be able to distinguish between these two different threats and will have plans and procedures in place and be able to adopt the appropriate counter-measures. Maritime threats in Yemeni ports and off Yemen are complex, long-running and well known to the industry,” he said.

Gulf of Aden Group Transits chief executive Nick Davies said the threat of a potential terrorist attack on a vessel was a “completely different kettle of fish” to the threat of piracy.

“If a vessel with a suicide bomber is approaching, armed guards showing their weapons in a bid to warn the vessel off won’t matter one iota. Private maritime security companies may not fully comprehend the risk. However, there are other areas apart from off the coast of Yemen that are just as vulnerable,” he said.

C-Level Maritime Risks founder Michael Frodl said the firm had been watching Yemen for 10 years.

“Yemen is a ‘country’ (actually formally two) held together with rubber bands and paper clips — used by al-Qaeda in Pakistan as much as Tehran to host groups they want to train and arm to hurt their respective enemies,” he said.

However, Mr Frodl said that he did not think the conflict provided a probable or imminent threat to shipping. “It takes a certain expertise to pull off a waterborne improvised explosive device — you have to just get the explosives and loading right, as well as the manoeuvring of a small boat against a much larger one,” he said.

“If arming, loading and piloting a waterborne IED were an easy operation, there would be a lot more ships to talk about and London would have stopped insuring runs along the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula a long time ago.”

Mr Frodl argued that it was more likely that al-Qaeda would target the recently sprung Jihadis out of jail from Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Pakistan — by his count, over 2,000 — and recruit them to storm a local target.

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