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October 13, 2005

MARLO Bahrain issues piracy advisory

The U.S. Navy's Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO) in Bahrain says that "in view of the continued concerns regarding piracy and unlawful boardings in the Northern Arabian Gulf and off the Horn of Africa," it is promulgating the considerations below to vessel operators and shippers. This incorporates and expands upon MARLO Advisory 10-05 dated July 5, 2005.


Between July and December 2004 there were 70 reported criminal attacks on merchant vessels (primarily on small boats) in and around Iraqi territorial waters, including in the Khor Abd Allah (KAA)

Between January and June 2005 there were 25 such attacks with a trend moving outward from the KAA and Shatt Al Arab (SAA) into the deep water Anchorages (DWA). (On a positive note, this shift in location likely reflects improving security in the SAA and KAA.)

Reports of acts of piracy are increasing at an alarming rate off the eastern coast of Somalia. 15 violent incidents have taken place since mid-March of this year. (This is a dramatic increase compared with only two such attacks in all of 2004.) In a ten-day period towards the end of July there were eight attacks. Specific to the Northern Arabian Gulf:

Most attacks have been when the moon was more than half full.

Attacks tended to take place between 0100 and 0300 (local)

Attacks were perpetrated by groups of 3-8 people

Attackers used small boats (described as skiffs)

Attackers were normally armed with knives, small arms and, on occasion AK47 assault rifles-- but the use of physical violence has, to date, been restrained

The perpetrators were of mixed nationality

There has been only one reported incident of an attack on a vessel underway (though the vessel was steaming at very low speed and had a low freeboard to the stern)-- the majority of incidents took place while vessels were at anchor

Access to attacked vessels was most commonly been via the anchor cable although any points with external lines, fittings or ladders could be used

Specific to off the Somali Coast:

Attackers used speedboats and gunboats - some have even used machine guns rocket propelled grenades and two "chase" boats

Attackers frequently opened fire on ships

Many attacks were aimed at hijacking the vessel and holding the crew for ransom

Vessels slowing down, or stopping close to the Somali coast have risked being boarded by gangs of Somali militiamen

Using violent means, these pirates have extorted substantial sums of money from ship owners in exchange for the return of vessels and crew

Attackers operating in this area have become more audacious and are venturing further away from the shoreline - a number of recent attacks have occurred over 100 miles from Somalia's eastern coast

The long civil war has resulted in no effective law enforcement infrastructure Suggested Self-Protection Considerations and Countermeasures

Plan voyages to reduce the loitering/at anchor times, paying close attention to expected terminal/port activity

This can MINIMIZE time in the Deep Water Anchorage (DWA) and vicinity where attacks are more likely

Some operators/owners have taken the initiative to communicate/coordinate directly with Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) as well as terminal managers to more closely time their voyage/presence in the at-risk areas

Unless absolutely necessary, ships should consider NOT anchoring overnight at all but to either drift at a safe distance or slow steam to meet the pilot for port approach

Be suspicious of small craft traveling close by and counter suspicious approaches

Consider energizing deck lighting to deter unauthorized boarding from suspicious approaching vessels

If anchoring is necessary, another means of reducing the risk of attack is to present an image of vigilance and alertness including:

Upper deck lighting (including over the side if possible)

Additional lighting should be erected to illuminate the anchor cable.

Smaller vessels or ships with a low freeboard should consider using stern lights

Maintain a vigilant lookout in all directions, at all times focusing on viable points of entry to the ship

Control and secure to key areas, including the bridge

Have sentries carry communications with the bridge to provide early warning of any intruder

Sentries posted forward on the ship are vulnerable to being taken hostage if bandits manage to board the vessel - doubling up of sentries should be considered for these more vulnerable/isolated positions

Ships operating in the DWA have found audible alarms highly effective in alerting the ship's crew and other vessels to an attack they also have some deterrent effect on the bandits themselves. (Portable audible alarms are commonly available and can be more effective than a "shout for assistance.")'

The anchor cable can be rigged to make it more difficult for bandits to gain access including:

Barbed or razor wire woven through and around the cable which is then veered such that the wire extends approximately 2-3 meters down the hawse pipe

Securing a large (2-3 meter) length of vinyl or canvas scotchman around the ship's cable and heavily greasing it before veering it to midway between the hawse pipe and the waterline

Locking the hawse pipe covers in place (bandits have been known to reach through covers and undo the traditional wing nut arrangement)

Maintaining the ship's fitted anchor cable wash-down system, or a fire hose aimed through the hawse pipe on full pressure while the ship is at anchor

In the event that bandits do gain access to the ship, a pre-designated secure compartment (with VHF radio facility inside) can be identified as a crew sanctuary

Ensure all crewmembers are aware of the ship's security plan and reaction procedures in the event of an attack or unauthorized boarding

Activating GMDSS as soon as bandits are on board or known to be attempting to board. Due to heavy congestion over VHF in the Northern Gulf, this can provide the most expeditious warning to other ships in the area

sounding the ship's whistle, activating flares or using other means to attract attention

Ahead of time, review all planned responses to bandit/pirate attack to ensure that they are acting within the flag state laws in the application of force in defence of the crew and vessel

Minimize the amount of currency and unnecessary electronic equipment on board

Limit references to intended transit tracks and cargo particulars over easily monitored bridge-to-bridge radio communications

Monitor VHF channel 16 for advisories

Report suspicious activity immediately via VHF channel 16

Specific to the coast of Somalia/the Horn of Africa:

Based upon recent attacks, consider keeping at least 150 miles off the eastern and north eastern coast of Somalia, unless specifically calling at a Somali port

Minimize the use of radio communications, including VHF, in this area

Coalition forces conduct Maritime Security Operations (MSO) to help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. The main focus of MSO is to deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons, or other material. However, coalition forces will continue to respond to distress calls whenever feasible. Merchant vessels are strongly encouraged to take all recommended precautions as the primary means to prevent attacks against them by bandits or pirates.