ARX Mouldings has received reports from the UKMTO which indicates that an M/V has reported a close approach by an unknown craft 30nm west of port Saleef.
Vessel and crew are safe and continue on their passage.
The latest report occurred 30nm NW the boarding and subsequent detention of the UAE flagged MV RWABEE 20nm West Ras Isa Terminal on the 2nd January 22. Whilst details remain unclear it is highly likely that Houthi forces are operating throughout the area at a heightened state of alert following what a Houthi spokesperson described as the detention of a “…military cargo ship with military equipment on board, that entered Yemeni waters without any license and engaged in hostilities targeting the security and stability of the Yemeni people…”
Dryad Reports Vessels are reminded that due to the ongoing conflict in Yemen and subsequent contested maritime space offshore Saleef and Hudaydah and the potential for incident, transits through the lower Red Sea are recommended to be conducted West of the Hanish and Zubair Islands.
Statements from the US embassy in Yemen strongly condemn the vessel detention. Statements by coalition spokesperson Brigadier General Turki Al-Maliki state, “The terrorist Houthi militia will bear full responsibility as a result of its criminal act of piracy against the ship, which violates the customary International Humanitarian Law, the San Remo Manual on Armed Conflicts at Sea and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
“The militia must promptly release the ship, or the Coalition Forces will undertake all necessary measures and procedures to handle this violation, including the use of force if necessary.”
Following the detention of the vessel, Saudi Arabian air defences intercepted and destroyed five drones launched by the Iran-aligned Houthi forces.
The Saudi-led coalition subsequently launched air strikes on targets in Yemen’s capital Sanaa in response to the vessel detention and drone attacks carried out by the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. In addition, forces of Yemen’s internationally recognized government reclaimed large swaths of territory in the southern province of Shabwa from Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
On the 5th January 22 the Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC) claimed that the Saudi-led coalition had diverted to a Saudi port a fifth fuel vessel heading for the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah. Essam al-Mutawakkal, who heads the YPC in Houthi areas, said five such fuel ships that had received United Nations clearances to enter Yemen were currently being detained by the coalition.
Subsequently on the 5th January 22, UKMTO issued an alert indicating a vessel had suffered a suspicious approach whilst in transit, northbound, 30nm west of the Yemeni port of Saleef. Subsequent investigation indicates that Liberian flagged vessel issued a distress signal having been approached by two small craft to within 1.3 cables. It is understood that embarked personnel opened fire, which resulted in a return of fire from the small vessels. No casualties were reported with the smaller vessels seen departing towards al Zubair Island.
Assessment: Whilst there is no direct intelligence connecting the approach on the Liberian vessel with the ongoing increased tensions within the southern Red Sea, it is assessed as highly likely that Houthi forces are acting in a state of heightened alert resulting from the significant increase in tensions and as such it remains a realistic possibility that the event was connected.
Well-developed trends indicate a clear set of attack methodologies and targeting preferences used by Houthi rebels, to both dominate their perceived area of immediate strategic influence and oppose Saudi forces throughout the southern Red Sea. In line with the increase in tensions and incidents within the maritime domain, it is assessed as likely that should the Houthi rebels seek to conduct reprisal attacks, this is likely to take the form of previously seen incidents. As such, the corresponding risk to wider commercial traffic, operating within specific areas of the Red Sea is assessed to have increased.
Houthi rebels are known to utilise several methods of opposing Saudi forces within the area, including the boarding and detention of vessels operating in support of the Saudi coalition, the deployment of remote-controlled waterborne improvised explosive devices (RC-WBIEDs) and anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs). In addition, several groups are known to have deployed a range of sea mines throughout the coastal area.
Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (WBIED) have played a role in previous attack patterns of Houthi units within the area, with particular focus on the Saudi ports Jizan and Al Shuquaiq due to their proximity to Saudi Yemen border as well as the Yemeni Port of Salif. In December 2020, an attack on a vessel at the Saudi Port of Jeddah indicated an ability of threat actors to conduct such attacks significantly beyond their normal area of operations. Such activity is assessed as likely to form part of any reprisal action conducted by Houthi forces. Where deployed, targets are likely to include Saudi maritime traffic, and vessels suspected of supporting the Saudi coalition in Yemen. In line with previous targeting methodology, Saudi Red Sea ports are assessed to be at increased risk of targeting via the use of WBIED and or missile / drone strikes.
Previous activity by Houthi rebels has also involved the targeting of Saudi flagged vessels in transit via the use of rockets often launched within the vicinity of the Hanish Islands. A threat of naval mines has previously been reported in coastal waters between Midi, Yemen and Jizan, Saudi Arabia. Sadaf-type naval mines were discovered in May by Saudi authorities, implicating Iran in naval activities off the Yemeni coast. This continued in early June when Joint Forces squads discovered a network of mines through the Hanish Archipelago.
Recommendations: Commercial maritime traffic transiting throughout the Red Sea should ensure that all transits are conducted West of the al Zubair and Hanish islands. Full compliance with BMP5 is considered essential in areas of risk. In addition, significant outward and area lighting would serve as a suitable deterrent for both vessels at anchorage and underway. Vessels are strongly advised to keep the Automatic Information System (AIS) on.
Emergency procedures should continue to be well rehearsed and understood by all crew. Vessel masters and company CSO’s should consider protocol in respect of interaction with state / militia forces i.e Saudi coalition vessels / Houthi rebels. In all cases vessels should comply and remain vigilant.
Whilst the risk of Houthi interaction with lawful commercial maritime traffic operating within the wider Red Sea is assessed as LOW, vessels embarking PMSC should consider the benefits of armed security against the current threat from traditional maritime crime and piracy, against risk of escalation resulting from interaction with militant forces. Houthi forces are not assessed to have the intent of interdicting or detaining lawful commercial traffic however as a result of heightened tensions are likely to act in a manner that may be commensurate with a hostile actor thus increasing the potential for miscalculation.