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Advice for private yachts transiting the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea: maintain close contact

MariTrace, 11 March 2024



Photo by @benkoorengevel on Unsplash


Attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea are continuing. The tragic loss of three crew aboard the container ship TRUE CONFIDENCE, struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile on 6 March, underscores how very little protection is afforded to seafarers in the front line. While the attacks may be intended to mark out ships with business connections to the US and the UK, the risks of collateral damage and the very real threat to the lives of innocent people are clear.

 

The US and Europe have mounted maritime task forces to secure the freedom of navigation for commercial ships. These missions are designed to safeguard global trade routes. Yachts and private sailing vessels are not explicitly included in their remit.

 

In February, as it became clear the crisis is likely to continue, industry associations updated their guidelines for merchant shipping transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Surveying the current warnings in place for private vessels, we found that the UKMTO advises (in an Annex to best management practices) that

“leisure craft should make early contact in advance with the naval/military authorities to determine if the VRA area is safe to transit; regional activity has indicated attacks occur on both large and small vessels. Transit close to areas of conflict should be avoided. Close contact should be maintained with UKMTO throughout any voyage.”

 

Searching further, we found that advice from MSCHoA has not been updated in at least eighteen months. MSCHoA confirmed to MariTrace that the regional coordination centre continues to advise that “in view of the recent escalation in pirate attacks in the area of the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, and the consequent very high risk, the essential advice is not to enter this area”(emphasis added). Private vessels are simply advised to inform MSCHOA by email. In May 2020 (the most recent version we could identify on a cloud server, owner unknown, was October 2022), the World Sailing International Regulations Commission released a warning notice jointly with MSCHoA, stating that “The danger of piracy and consequent loss of life and property in the GoA (Gulf of Aden), Yemeni and Somali waters (up to 750 miles offshore), is high. Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area.” (emphasis added). At that time, yachts were urged (but not mandated) to register with UKMTO, MSCHoA at least fourteen days prior to entering into the High Risk Area (HRA).


High Risk Areas encompass the Gulf of Aden and southern Red Sea. Source: MariTrace.

At the time of the October 2022 update, the increase in deployed private armed security contractors on merchant vessels was thought to increase the threat to smaller yachts, who may have been seen as easier targets. Eighteen months on, much of what is contained in the guidelines remains relevant for mitigating piracy. However, the attack patterns that were described in section 3 of the 2020 guidelines have evolved completely: where once the main threat was from armed persons onboard skiffs, today’s threats are very different. Onboard security teams and counter-piracy measures are of little effect against drones and inbound missiles. Attacks launched from land are redefining the scope of maritime security in this troubled area and while these are (so far) targeted at merchant vessels, the risk of collateral damage and/or getting in the way cannot be understated.



Seven sailing vessels transiting the Southern Red Sea on 11 March, within hours of further incidents reported by UKMTO. Source: MariTrace.

 

As with routing decisions in any part of the world, any decision to transit the high risk area remains with the yacht owner and a yacht master deciding to take the Gulf of Aden route to the Red Sea does so at their own risk. Remarkably, since the onset of attacks launched from Yemen, we have observed sailing vessels and yachts on a daily basis among the merchant shipping that transits the high risk area. Owners of private yachts may wish to consider advanced tracking solutions that enable vessel position monitoring and risk planning even when AIS is switched off - if their voyage is essential.


No AI was used in the writing of this article. MariTrace analysis and reporting is based on open sources; all information is human-curated and assessed via multi-phase, structured methods using industry-standard techniques to check for provenance, bias and accuracy.


To discover advanced vessel tracking solutions offered by MariTrace and enquire about risk assessment for your specific operational needs, please contact us.


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