Protection Vessels International: Weekly Maritime and Onshore Security Report

US Navy commanders speaking at the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in Bahrain warned that al-Qaeda, Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups could disrupt local shipping lanes in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda's control of the Yemeni port of Mukalla gives it access to major shipping lanes, with the commanders warning that "choke points" of international shipping, notably the Suez Canal, Bab el-Mandeb strait and the Strait of Hormuz, present major risks to international trade if targeted by terrorists.

PVI Analysis: Despite their warning, it is unclear if the US Navy has intelligence on plans by militant groups to disrupt commercial shipping. Military figures have previously warned of the threat to commercial vessels from Islamic State (IS) off the coast of Libya, although there is no clear evidence that terror groups have the capabilities to mount a significant attack on commercial vessels in the Red Sea or the southern Mediterranean.

Southeast Asia

Indonesia: Assailants steal buoy off Nongsa Point 6 April

The master of an underway Caymen Islands-flagged tugboat reported sighting two assailants in a wooden vessel steal the Norwegian Buoy approximately 2.4 nm off Nongsa Point in the Singapore Strait, before fleeing towards Batam at 1106 hrs local time. After the master reported the incident, the assailants were apprehended and the buoy was recovered the following morning. Incidents of petty theft are common in Indonesian waters.

West Africa

Nigeria: Pirates abduct six crewmembers 118 nm off Port Harcourt 11 April

Eight armed pirates attacked the Turkish chemical tanker MT Puli owned by Kaptanogul Shipping, kidnapping six crew members 118 nm off Port Harcourt at 0130 hrs local time. The tanker was en route from Douala port to Nigerian Abidjan port. Turkey's ambassador in Abuja, Hakan Cakil, confirmed that equipment was damaged but that the crew reported no injuries. Company officials reported they have not been contacted by the pirates regarding ransom demands.

PVI Analysis: The incident marks the latest kidnapping off the coast of Nigeria amid the current spate of abductions at sea in the Gulf of Guinea, which began in January 2016. Low oil prices and ongoing insecurity in the Niger Delta have incentivised criminal gangs to increasingly resort to kidnappings to fund their activities, and a lack of coordinated security in West African waters makes crewmembers easy targets.

Nigeria: Pirates attempt to board tanker off Brass coast 7 April

A group of armed pirates attempted to board an oil tanker some 80 nm off the coast of Brass while the vessel was awaiting cargo loading instructions. The pirates approached the tanker in a wooden speedboat but failed to secure their ladder to the tanker's deck due to its high freeboard, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The tanker was then escorted by terminal security boats to the terminal after the pirates escaped.

PVI Analysis: The assailants' intentions remain unclear, although it is possible the attack was a failed kidnap for ransom attack amid the current spate of abductions in the region's waters. The incident is the second such attempt on tanker vessels in Nigerian waters in a week, after an attack 41 nm off Brass on 1 April also failed.

Select Maritime News

Australia: Sydney port workers to strike between 13-15 April 11 April

Workers belonging to the Maritime Union of Australia have announced they will be holding a 48-hour strike at Port Botany in Sydney beginning on 13 April at 0600 hrs local time. The action comes as a follow-up to a 72-hour strike at Fremantle container terminal between 6-9 April. Some 260 workers at the port are expected to participate to oppose the planned joint takeover of Asciano Ltd's Patrick Corporation by Qube Holdings and Brookfield in mid-2016, which the union believes will lead to further job cuts. Patrick Corp, which manages the port, has assured shipping firms that it will attempt to minimise the disruption from the strike.

China: Electric company plans LNG terminal for Hong Kong 11 April

China Light and Power, one of two electricity suppliers in Hong Kong, is planning to build a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal near the Soko Islands, off the southern coast of Hong Kong's Lantau island. The company hopes the terminal will provide Hong Kong with a new source of gas, as the city currently relies upon gas piped from Central Asia or from gas fields near Hainan. The terminal would also help to meet the city's post-2020 mixed electricity sourcing requirements. Investigations are now being conducted into the possible ecological and environmental impact.

China: Beijing begins operations on artificial Spratly Island 6 April

Chinese military officials held an inauguration ceremony as operations began on the Subi Reef artificial island in the Spratlys, which is also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. China has completed the construction, begun in October 2015, of an airstrip and a lighthouse, as well as other buildings and maritime infrastructure. Chinese national media have reported the lighthouse on Subi Reef will provide effective navigation services and route guidance for nearby vessels.

East Timor: Dili launches UN campaign for permanent maritime boundaries 12 April

East Timor has begun a campaign at the United Nations to establish formal maritime boundaries with Australia in a bid to end a long-running dispute over the jurisdiction of oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea. Previous efforts to establish joint-sharing agreements and maritime boundaries with Australia in 2006 were retracted by East Timor over allegations that Australia spied on internal Timorese meetings during negotiations. No comment has yet been made by Canberra or the UN over the next steps in the dispute.

El Salvador: Authorities seize 497 kg of cocaine near Sur de Acajutla 10 April

El Salvador's navy seized an Ecuadorian-flagged ship transporting 497 kg of cocaine 61 nm from Sur de Acajutla, Sonsonate department. Three men were arrested on the vessel, which had been bound for Guatemala before travelling to the US. In under 30 days, the navy has captured a total of 727 kg of cocaine.

Greece: COSCO completes Piraeus port authority purchase amid protests 9 April

China's state-owned COSCO Shipping Corporation has completed its purchase of Piraeus Port Authority, the operator of Greece's largest port, despite protests by striking port workers against the country's second major privatisation since late 2015. Port workers protested in central Athens against the deal, causing container terminals to shut down at the port and isolated clashes with police. Under the deal, COSCO will buy 51 percent of Piraeus and another 16 percent after five years for a total of USD 418 mn. Piraeus is the third biggest port in the Mediterranean in terms of port volume.

Indonesia: Maritime groups call for greater security in South China, Celebes seas 12 April

The Indonesian National Shipowners Association and the Indonesian Seafarers Union have called on the governments of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia to establish formal cooperation to boost security in waters between their countries, including the South China Sea and the Celebes Sea. The call comes after the latest Abu Sayyaf abduction of Indonesian fishermen on 26 March from Philippine waters in the Celebes. The groups said that the cooperation established in the Strait of Malacca is also needed in Celebes.

Indonesia: Police foil Filipino meth smuggling scheme in Sulawesi 8 April

Police in Parepare, South Sulawesi, have foiled a scheme to smuggle crystal methamphetamines from Tarakan, North Kalimantan. The police raided a motorboat docked at Nusantara Parepare Port and confiscated bags of drugs, which were obtained by a gang in the Philippines. Five out of six suspects were arrested.

Indonesia: Widodo inaugurates five ports in Maluku 6 April

President Joko Widodo inaugurated five ports in Maluku, developed as part of the government's "maritime highway" programme to connect eastern Indonesia with large seaports in Java. The five ports include Tobelo, Galela, Tutu Kombong, Wonrel and Teor Island ports. Indonesia has heavily invested in its maritime infrastructure in the past year, constructing some 27 seaports and four ferry ports across the country, with plans for 68 more ports across Maluku, East Nusa, Tenggara, Papua and Sulawesi.

Iraq: Weather, maintenance cause severe delays at Basra port 6 April

A traffic jam of nearly 30 large oil tankers has built up outside the port of Basra due to loading delays, caused by rough weather conditions and the closure of three of the seven loading berths for maintenance. Some of the tankers have been waiting up to three weeks to load heavy crude, which is costing ship operators around USD 75,000 a day per vessel. Reuters quoted shippers and port sources as saying that more delays were likely throughout April as Basra's facilities struggle to cope with Iraq's soaring crude output.

Libya: Air forces claim to destroy vessel off coast of Benghazi 10 April

According to local media, the air forces linked to the Operation Dignity group said they sunk a vessel off the coast of the Qanfouda area of Benghazi, which was carrying weapons and reinforcements to militants. The report comes amid heavy fighting in the city in recent days and an ongoing assault by the army on militant positions. Forces linked to the Tobruk-based authority, the House of Representatives, occasionally target vessels suspected of supplying militants in Benghazi.

Malaysia: Update: Beijing envoy denies border incursion by Chinese fishermen 6 April

China's ambassador to Malaysia has denied that more than 100 Chinese fishermen encroached Malaysia's maritime borders on 31 March. He claimed that the waters in which they were operating, near the Luconia Shoals in the South China Sea, have been China's traditional fishing grounds for 600 years. The argument is the same made by Beijing for most of its South China Sea claims, which have heightened tensions with Vietnam and the Philippines. Malaysian and Indonesian incursions in the past month represent a new front in China's maritime disputes.

Philippines: Diplomat reports US allocation of USD 120 mn in military aid for 2016 8 April

A Filipino diplomat said that US has allocated USD 120 mn in military aid for 2016, adding that the amount was the largest received by the Philippines military in 15 years. Reuters reported that Manila was also in talks with Washington to acquire a fourth Hamilton-class cutter to strengthen the Philippine's capability to patrol the waters. The moves come amid China's land reclamation activities in the disputed South China Sea. Manila claims sovereignty of the disputed Spratly islands.

Philippines: Banks extend hours to process payments, avoid port congestion 5 April

According to the Bureau of Customs, seven Philippine and foreign banks in the country are extending their operating hours to facilitate payment clearance for shipments in order to avoid port congestion. The banks include Deutsche Bank, Asia United Bank and East West Banking Corp. The banks will now operate over weekends to avoid a repeat of the port congestion seen in Ferbruary 2014, when utilisation rates at Manila International Container Port were over 100 percent after the government imposed an expanded truck ban. Utilisation rates at the port are currently at 71 percent.

Portugal: Dockworkers to strike from 20 April 8 April

The Portuguese Dockers Union (SETC) announced plans to strike from 20 April until 5 May, over the failure of operators at the port of Lisbon to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with dockworkers. The strike is likely to affect operations at the port, as well as at the ports of Setubal and Figueira da Foz. Talks between the two sides collapsed on 4 April.

Seychelles: Authorities investigate deaths of two guards on Spanish vessel 9 April

Seychelles authorities are investigating the deaths of two armed guards aboard a Spanish fishing vessel at Port Victoria. The bodies of the guards were found at 0700 hrs local time after gunshots were heard at around 1600 hrs on 8 April while the vessel was on route from Madagascar to Port Victoria. Police have said that preliminary investigations point to a murder-suicide incident, though the shooter's motive remains unclear. The vessel, Txori Gorri, was fishing off the coast of Madagascar and left for the Seychelles on 18 March.

South Korea: Seoul demands USD 100 mn from shipbuilder over tax evasion 11 April

Tax authorities in Seoul imposed a USD 104 mn additional tax bill on Hyundai Heavy Industries, the country's top shipbuilder, over allegations of tax evasion by the company. Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries, a subsidiary, also faces some USD 2.5 mn in penalties. The company has appealed against the decision, saying it has suffered from losses in recent years, with shipbuilding orders reportedly dropping almost 50 percent in January and February 2016 compared to the year before.

South Korea: Update: Pyongyang halts GPS jamming against vessels 6 April

According to South Korea's ICT ministry, North Korea has halted sending signals to jam GPS technology on vessels in waters near Incheon, Gyeonggi and Gangwon. The GPS disruptions were no longer detected as of 1200 hrs local time. The disruptions caused malfunctions to navigational systems, affecting some 1,000 aircraft and 715 ships since the signals began on 31 March. North Korea previously launched similar jamming efforts in 2010 and 2012.

Sri Lanka: Navy frees 96 Indian fishermen 9 April

The navy freed 96 Indian fishermen in exchange for nine Sri Lankan fishermen arrested by the Indian Coast Guard. The Indian fishermen belong to the state of Tamil Nadu and were brought to the city of Puducherry, local media reported. Both Sri Lanka and India periodically arrest fishermen from the other country for violating the maritime boundary, which is contested and not clearly marked.

Switzerland: ILO maintains recommended minimum wage for seafarers 11 April

Representatives from maritime employers and workers' unions, meeting at the International Labour Organisation (ILO)'s Joint Maritime Committee in Geneva, have agreed to maintain the ILO's recommended minimum wage for seafarers of USD 614 per month until at least 2018. The meeting was attended by employers belonging to the International Chamber of Shipping and unions organised under the International Transport Workers' Federation. In the ILO's statement, the organisation said the rate would be maintained to allow stability for employers amid global industry challenges. The next meeting of the committee is not expected until 2018.

Tunisia: Coast Guard seizes fuel on Libyan vessel in Mahdia 11 April

Local media said that security forces seized a large fuel shipment of an undisclosed size on a Libyan ship in the Port of Mahdia. The ship's commander, a Libyan national, tried to sell the fuel to a local resident. Fuel trafficking is a major problem in Tunisia, particularly near the border with Libya where it represents a significant part of the local economy.

United States: Hawaii fines South Korean shipping firm for illegal discharges 8 April

A federal judge in Hawaii has fined South Kroean shipping firm Doorae Shipping USD 950,000 for failing to maintain an accurate oil record book and for making false statements to the US Coast Guard over dumping oil-contaminated bilge water. The firm has also been sentenced to two years' probation for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, which requires tankers to use pollution prevention equipment before discharging oil-contaminated water.

United States: Coast Guard offloads 14 tonnes of confiscated cocaine at San Diego 8 April

The US Coast Guard offloaded more than 14 tonnes of cocaine at San Diego's Broadway Pier. The narcotics had been seized from 13 smuggling vessel interceptions off the eastern Pacific coasts of Central and South America between January and March. The seizures were made by US Coast Guard cutters operating in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, known drug transit areas, amid a sweeping crackdown on international maritime drug smuggling operations.

Vietnam: Hanoi, Manila agree six-year security cooperation plan 12 April

The Philippines and Vietnam agreed to draft a 2016-2022 action plan to pursue strategic security cooperation in response to China's activities in disputed areas of the South China Sea. The plan will increase collaboration between the countries' defence ministries and naval forces, which will hold intelligence and technology exchanges. China's aggressive policy of island-building in the Spratly and Paracel Islands have led to formal and informal alliances between other claimants to the islands, as well as with the US. Vietnam and the Philippines have also developed close ties with Japan in the past year, which has separate territorial disputes with China.

Vietnam: Hanoi asks Beijing to remove oil rig from Gulf of Tonkin 8 April

Vietnam has asked China to remove its oil rig from the disputed waters near the Gulf of Tonkin. The oil rig was at the centre of tensions between both countries in 2014 when China parked it near the Paracel islands, which Hanoi claims as its exclusive economic zone. The incident sparked anti-China riots in Vietnam in which more than 20 people were killed and industrial parks and factories were torched.

Yemen: Reuters cites growing wealth, strength of AQAP 8 April

According to a report from Reuters, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has earned up to USD 2 mn daily in taxes on fuel and other goods imported via the ports of Mukalla and Ash Shihr, which have been under its control for more than a year. The group reportedly extorted USD 1.4 mn from the national oil company and requested permission from the Yemeni government to export oil from Mukalla. Tribes allied with AQAP also control key energy infrastructure, which could make it difficult to restore oil and gas production, a critical source of revenues. AQAP has exploited the ongoing conflict between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government to expand its territorial control and influence.

Source: Protection Vessels International