In 2000 seventeen sailors were murdered and a further thirty-nine seriously injured when terrorists rammed the hull of the USS Cole with a speedboat laden with explosives. The vessel was moored in the port of Aden when two Al-Qaeda suicide bombers detonated their water-born improvised explosive device (WBIED) into her port side causing a 12 m by 8 m gash in the hull with the force of the blast lifting the upper-deck. It took a well-drilled military crew three days to bring the damage under control.
Fast forward seventeen years and a new brand of terrorism is threatening sea-going vessels in the region, only this time they are planning to target un-armoured, un-protected commercial ships and not war ships. With 8,670–10,000 people being killed in Yemen from March 2015 to November 2017, including more than 5,200 civilians collateral damage is certainly of no concern to the factions vying for power in the region
Yemen is in the midst of war, with numerous terrorist factions, armed tribes and militia groups fighting. These include Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Houthi-led Supreme Revolutionary Committee with a Saudi coalition conducting regular air raids and shelling. The situation in the region remains highly volatile and is escalating into the Southern Red Sea with some fractions threatening to target merchant ships to further their cause.
Attempted attacks by WBIED’s on the MV Muskie (31st May 2017) and MV Spirit (25th October 2016) add credence to these threats. The danger and likelihood of such an attack has prompted the release of interim guidance for vessels transiting in this area. The document produced by the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO and Intertanko offers mariners advice on how to best prepare and react against such an attack and states that this document should be read in in conjunction with BMP4, a booklet on best management practices to deter and defend against Somali pirates.
The threat of Somali piracy, WBIED, missile attacks and sea mines bottle-necked into a twelve-mile stretch of water, which surely makes the Bab El Mandab one of the most dangerous shipping routes in the world. Approximately forty-two thousand ships sail through this area annually and the impact on world trade cannot be underestimated should an attack be successful on this arterial waterway. These forty-two thousand ships have to be lucky all the time, a terrorist attack only has to be lucky once.
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