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Shipping warned over escalation of attacks in southern Red Sea

Ambrey Risk, a UK security consultancy, is warning of a step change in violence seen in waters in the southern Red Sea in the past month. With three instances of skiffs approaching three ships in the past month, including one where an RPG was fired at an LNG carrier resulting in damage to the poop deck and citadel, the British firm is warning pirates in the region are stepping up activities further ashore with a view to boarding larger ships.

“There has been a step change in the use of violence offshore in the region over the past month.

Although much of this has been focused in the southern Red Sea, there is reason to believe the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin will face similar exposure in the near term,” Ambrey Risk said in a note to clients today.

There are distinct reasons for the incidents in the southern Red Sea and Somali Basin, Ambrey Risk noted.

First, political manoeuvres on the part of the Saudi-led coalition intervention in Yemen has elevated the importance of the strategically sensitive Bab el Mandeb. The government opposition, the Zaydi-Shia al-Houthi backed by Iran, are vying to break a stalemate in the protracted war, which has been felt most acutely in the coastal Taiz and al-Hudaydah provinces. The recent Houthi strike against a UAE-chartered vessel working on behalf of the Saudi coalition garnered an indiscriminate retaliation by the Saudi forces and with it, scrutiny from the international community. It was therefore, a successful play on the part of the Houthi opposition. While a repeat strike against military assets is now less likely following US precision targeting of Houthi installations, proxy sympathisers of the Houthi movement can deliver in kind and embarrass the Saudi coalition, by striking commercial fleets.

In all likelihood, the attack on the LNG tanker was overseen by the Houthi, Ambrey Risk maintained, but perpetrated by those such as the al-Tihamma community, who have their own interest in siding with the opposition; in the past, the al-Tihamma have said they will take their fight offshore in order to press home their demands for greater autonomy. The second approach on the morning of 25 October was in all probability by the same group.

Second, the hijacked Omani-flagged fishing vessel Naham 3 was recently released for a reported payment of a little under $58,000 per crewmember, after four and a half years in captivity.

“It is likely that the Pirate Action Group responsible remained passive during this time, in order to ensure the negotiations were not derailed. However, the fee secured for the 26 crew members of the Naham 3 is unlikely to limit their return to organised crime. As there are now no seafarers held hostage as a result of this particular period of Somali piracy, the cupboards are bare and the prospects slim. The recent armed approach at such a significant range from shore is more than likely a bid to identify a valuable asset that can be boarded; the approaching skiff only distanced itself from the general cargo vessel after a series of escalatory measures were carried out by the embarked maritime security team,” the consultancy concluded.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Hi Lars. Thank you for your comments. Please note the first paragraph is that of the journalist. With reference to your point, our view in the article is quoted as follows: “There are distinct reasons for the incidents in the southern Red Sea and Somali Basin, Ambrey Risk noted.” If you would like to know more about any incident, please do get in touch with our intelligence team.

  2. From latest Maritime Security Review:
    ‘Staying in the Indian Ocean, it appears that Somali pirates (or Houthi rebels impersonating them) have been up to their old tricks. On the 25th, there was a report that the Galacia Spirit had been attacked and hit by RPG fire in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. While this would have marked a significant escalation in the threat to merchant shipping, it now appears that no RPG was fired. 
    Then, on Wednesday, media reports stated that the Melati Satu had been attacked in a similar position and hit by a RPG round. The Saudi coalition sent a ship to its aid, said Major General Ahmed Assiri. The only problem was that UKMTO, EUNAVFOR and the ship owners and crew all say that there was no attack…Hmm.’

  3. Thank you for the above Lars. At the time of going to press, Ambrey Risk was entirely confident of the detail in the article. Subsequent investigations into the LNG incident showed that the event did not involve an RPG; given this was an evolving incident, an update to our initial report was later published. In this second report, there was a more accurate account of the incident. Suffice to say, it remains of particular importance.

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