Security risks impacting global shipping in Q2 2024

In this third instalment of Inchcape’s Global Shipping Report, Daniel Mueller, lead analyst for the Indian Ocean and the Middle East at global risk management company Ambrey, recaps the enduring maritime security (marsec) threats in the second quarter, while Ian Wilkinson, VP sales excellence at Inchcape, provides an update on key logistics changes amid a paradigm shift in trading patterns. Christopher Greenwood, VP survey and inspection at Inchcape, wraps up with a look at security preparedness and surveys Inchcape offers in partnership with Ambrey.

In Q2 of 2024, Ambrey recorded 874 marsec events averaging 291.3 per month – an increase of 35% on the corresponding three months of 2023. Areas of interest remain the same as Q1 2024. Overall, increasing situational awareness has enabled the industry to implement adequate measures to counter risk on a global scale. Especially in recent months the combination of military intervention with private security as a force multiplier has been shown to be highly effective in mitigating risks.

Q2 Marsec Events
Q2 marsec events

Houthi developments

This is Ambrey’s primary concern at present, with a total of 62 reported incidents during Q2, comprising 49 suspicious approaches and 13 cases of physical damage. However, 50% (31) of these attacks remain uncorroborated Houthi claims, with no marsec incident officially recorded. This is a stark increase versus Q1, when only 18% of claims were uncorroborated.

Ambrey’s cumulative incident data shows a dramatic increase in Houthi operations around Day 58 of Q2, reflecting a coordinated response by all factions of the pro-Iranian ‘axis of resistance’, also including Hezbollah and Islamic Resistance in Iraq, to a looming aerial operation by the Israel Defence Force (IDF). Since then there has been a steady uptick in claimed operations, however confirmed incidents remained lower in Q2 than in Q1, which would indicate a reduction in effectiveness.

The Houthi targeting profile remained stable throughout Q2, and Ambrey continuing to assess that those vessels at heightened risk are Israel-affiliated, conduct Israel trade or are UK/US-owned. This perceived affiliation is key for Houthi targeting but may be outdated and is driven by opportunism.

During Q2, Ambrey saw a drop in the effect of withholding AIS transmissions. Considering confirmed incidents only, the chance of a vessel with AIS switched off being hit and sustaining physical damage was 50/50. However, if claimed attacks are also taken into account, the percentage is relatively similar to Q1. This indicates that withholding AIS reduces the likelihood of being struck by a projectile and remains a viable mitigation measure, as it is harder for the Houthis to identify the location of vessels and target accurately.

Meanwhile, there has been an extension of Houthi aerial operations targeting merchant shipping beyond just the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. On 7 April, they claimed their first targeting operation in the Indian Ocean, followed on 22 May by a first claimed operation in the Mediterranean. Very recently there were also claimed operations in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, northern Red Sea and the Med. None in the Med have been corroborated. The Houthis also claimed to have targeted vessels in the Israeli port of Haifa as well as to have made coordinated attacks with Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

In these wider areas of operations Ambrey was only able to verify three attempted attacks, all on vessels in the Indian Ocean. In one case, the discovery of a missile hull on land indicated the vessel was being targeted offshore southeastern Somalia, while in another incident, a vessel sustained minor physical damage while southeast of Socotra Island. Another vessel reported proximate explosions while northeast of Socotra.

The Houthis’ range can be up to at least 2,000 kilometres, which could reach deep into the western Indian West Indian Ocean. However, longer range decreases the chance of projectile impact without further intelligence on the water, which to our knowledge the Houthi currently lack.

Somali piracy

The re-emergence of Somali Piracy Action Groups (PAG) since November 2023 culminated in their first success in Q2, pocketing a reported ransom of $4.6m to release the bulker MV Abdullah a month after it was hijacked. Since then there was one more successful boarding, albeit not a hijacking, of the vessel Basilisk southeast of Mogadishu, which constitutes the southernmost engagement of a PAG since November. The crew retreated to the citadel and remained there despite the master being taken hostage, with the result that the pirates ultimately abandoned the hijack attempt.

The upcoming monsoon season will likely decrease PAG activity in the northern Indian Ocean, however Ambrey continues to assess an increased risk in the Mogadishu area where the weather still permits activity, especially in international waters.

Ambrey highlights the relevance of BMP5 best-management practices to deter hijack vessels and adequate vessel hardening measures, especially razor wire and good lookout/vigilance, to hinder boarding attempts in the first place. Retreating to the citadel (safe room) is also critical to prolong the chances of military response and prevent a hijacking. Another measure is to speed up while transiting the high-risk area, however sailing at 16-17 knots does not necessarily represent a hindrance for a daring PAG nor guarantee an attempt will not be made if the seas are favourable.

Somali pirate action groups

While many vessels are starting to deploy armed guards on board, the most relevant aspect continues to be a prior security-enhanced freeboard. In the Indian Ocean no vessel with a freeboard greater than 9.2 metres has so far been boarded. Vessels with a 10-15 metre freeboard and adequate hardening measures may not require a security team. Nonetheless, private security teams are highly effective against PAG, who will think twice about trying to board as they don’t want to risk their own lives.

On a positive note, the Puntland police force is making arrests on shore, including the alleged arrest of a suspected ringleader of the Abdullah hijacking.

Rest of the World

In the Straits of Hormuz, Iranian forces seized an Israeli-owned containership during the period of heightened tension between the two countries following an Israeli airstrike on 1 April in Damascus that killed two Iranian generals. This was the first actual seizure of an Israeli vessel by Iranian forces versus previously recorded attempts at physical damage further offshore. Seizures are typical in response to sanction enforcements by the US.

In the Black Sea, the heightened risk to commercial shipping of unmanned systems – both surface and aerial – being used against military as well as industrial targets persists. There are reports of increased laying of sea mines, which primarily endanger the coastlines of Ukraine and Russia, but if they come adrift increase the risk to shipping in the wider Black Sea.

Considering West Africa, although there has been a decrease of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea, the threat persists as it is driven by opportunism. There was a crew kidnapping incident in the Equatorial Guinea Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as a robbery incident 365 nautical miles southwest of Cape Verde carried out by a highly organised group of perpetrators. It remains an outlier incident as there have been no subsequent attacks of this nature.

In the Americas region, there was a significant tension between Guyana and Venezuela over the Essequibo region that Venezuela claims it as its own territory. The risk of war between the two countries has not materialised but Ambrey continues to monitor the situation, as any escalation may have significant implications for the security of merchant shipping in the area.

In Haiti, criminal gangs have been causing significant insecurity and instability across the island nation but especially in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Although there have been occasional breaches of port facilities and halting of port operations leading to business disruption, the violence has not had any major impact on shipping. However, the deployment of 400 Kenyan police officers to help stabilise the country may see the risk persist or even escalate resulting in more than a just a business disruption concern for shipping.

Back in Europe, Ambrey flags an emerging rising risk in the Baltic Sea as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war. The risk at present is the theoretical risk of escalation. There have been unmanned system attacks on Russian oil refineries on the Baltic coast, as well as increased military activity by both NATO forces and the Russians. NATO is highly sensitive about further disruption to subsea cables and continues to monitor Russian merchant vessels in the area. There has already been a near-miss between a Russian warship and a Swedish ferry, and the risk of such incidents could increase the more the Russian Navy escorts Russian merchant fleets through the Baltic and adjacent straits. If the war spread to encompass the Russian Baltic coastline, merchant vessels travelling to Russia or one of the Baltic states could be at risk of collateral damage.

Migration risk

There has been an increase in migrant crossings in the western Atlantic off the coast of West Africa, in tandem with the increase in shipping around the Cape of Good Hope to Europe and back. Although this increases the likelihood of merchant vessels getting involved in search and rescue (S&R) operations, the risk is spread across a wider range of ships.

Crew change and bunkering locations

In terms of global trade, the container segment was first to adapt to the Red Sea situation with operators choosing the alternative Cape of Good Hope (CGH) route. This has been followed by tankers with a steep increase in crude volumes going around the CGH in the past six months. Typically more tankers are now sailing from the Gulf of Mexico to Europe, from the Middle East to China, and from the US West Coast. This has resulted in a decline in Suez Canal transits, however there are still tankers and other ships using the waterway. For example, there is a lot of crude going from Russia to India. These vessels allegedly tend to be quite old and not in a great state of repair, which raises P&I insurance concerns in the event of an incident.

These route changes have triggered a significant change in crew-change patterns. More vessels transiting the
the North Atlantic has led to a dramatic increase in crew changes through Houston, Antwerp, Algeciras/Gibraltar and Hong Kong. The reason for this is that crew are now signing on and off at the end of voyages as opposed to mid-voyage in the past (typically in the Middle East). These locations have major airports, hotels and transport, which are crucial for moving around large numbers of seafarers. Conversely, there was a 35% decline in crew changes in Suez in the last six months.

There have also been significant changes in bunkering. As the CGH route has become popular, in the last six months there has been a threefold increase in bunker calls in Mauritius. Port Louis has plenty capacity and a very efficient bunkering service, with an average 10-hour turnaround for a tanker.

The other location benefiting from CGH volumes is Walvis Bay in Namibia, with a fourfold increase in bunker volumes. One might assume that South Africa would be the obvious choice, but for some time there has been a lot of disruption in Durban and Cape Town. Turnaround is typically six days due not only to capacity issues but also port inefficiencies and customs/taxation challenges. In contrast, Walvis Bay typically has a two-day turnaround.

So against the macro security issues, the logistics around global maritime trade is also adapting, clearly demonstrating how the maritime industry always finds a way to cope with new realities.

Preparedness and security surveys

Inchcape and Ambrey signed an MOU partnership in Q1 2024 that combines Ambrey’s risk and maritime security expertise with Inchcape’s survey and inspection capability. Together we offer a range of inspections available globally (we are present in 80% of the world’s ports.) As partners we do not claim to be able to completely eradicate all marsec risk; our intention is to help clients understand the risks associated with their operations and help them mitigate them as best they can. Surveys include:

  • Best Management Practice (BMP) inspections
  • Citadel inspections
  • Ship Security Assessments (SSA)
  • Anti-piracy Ship Security Assessments (APSSA)
  • ISPS Ship Security Plan (SSP) Review
  • ISPS Port Security Assessment (PSA)
  • Stowaway inspection
  • K9/Underwater Narcotic inspections

You can request a survey right here on our website.