Safe Red Sea navigation
Simon Rowland, co-founder and CEO of Veritas International, outlines guidance for superyachts transiting the southern Red Sea and Yemeni Coast…
The southern Red Sea and escalating tensions close to the Yemeni Coast present a new security consideration for yachts considering crossing from the Med to Asia. After 15 years of the ongoing but significantly diminished threat of Somali pirates in the region, superyachts are well versed in the logistics of a safe transit through the area.
The current situation is headline-grabbing but very different. Simon Rowland, co-founder and CEO of Veritas International, has unparalleled levels of experience ensuring safe navigation through complex security considerations and shares guidance for yachts considering transiting the region.
As of January 2024, the security landscape of the southern Red Sea presents a dynamic and uncertain scenario for maritime navigation. Despite the primary focus of attacks on shipping in the southern sector, the potential for wider regional escalation necessitates heightened vigilance and adherence to stringent security protocols during transit.
Although rudimentary, the targeting system employed by the Houthi rebels appears deliberate and not random; as such, up to the time of writing, there does not appear to be a specific threat ranged against large yachts.
December 2023 saw a surge in hostilities, with 22 reported attacks on shipping, mostly north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, now under the designation of the Atalanta High-Risk Area – Red Sea. The European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) assesses the threat level to commercial shipping as moderate, although the Houthi claim to only target shipping with direct or indirect links to Israel, many of the 22 vessels attacked in December held no known connection, suggesting that the attacks may be more indiscriminate than otherwise stated or the Houthi’s intelligence is out of date or just wrong.
The area’s complexity is further intensified by the presence of multiple state actors, including Chinese, Iranian and Indian task forces, operating independently of European naval entities and the collective Operation Prosperity Guardian – a 12-nation coalition under Combined Task Force 153. The more operational elements working close to one another in a tense, challenging environment may increase the risk of miscalculation.
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned the Houthi attacks while warning against further escalation. Concurrently, the members of Operation Prosperity Guardian have echoed this condemnation, cautioning of severe repercussions if hostilities persist. Defiant, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting vessels they associate with Israeli interests.
Essential Precautions for Safe Passage
In light of the escalated threats in the Red Sea, what measures can superyacht operators undertake for secure transit? Drawing from the experience garnered during the long-running Indian Ocean piracy situation, the maritime community is better prepared to adopt enhanced security measures. However, the evolution of threats from piracy to drone and ballistic missile attacks necessitates novel countermeasures. The mitigation of this new threat is beyond most Navies’ capability, let alone any maritime security company, so what should you do?
Information and Intelligence
Back to basics: Assess your route, particularly its proximity to the Yemeni coastline; leave the coast at its maximum possible distance and detour south when through the strait and heading East. Avoid the location of recent incidents – while a past event does not necessarily predict the location of a future event, it may well indicate a vulnerable/favourable area targeted by the Houthi – avoid it. UKMTO remains the best source for recent and up-to-date information.
Preparation is Key
- Renew your threat and risk assessment specific to your transit and again immediately before entering any area with a recent history of an incident or where the threat picture has changed.
- Review your Ship Protection Measures and associated Plan.
- Review BMP5, paying particular attention to Section 7 – Ships Under Attack.
- Check and check again all safety and firefighting equipment, ensuring it is readily available and that every crew member is confident in its use.
- Rehearse every realistic scenario and pay specific attention to first aid delivery and communications.
- Pre-populate and pre-position helpful ‘cheat sheets’ to assist in a speedy action during an intense incident, for example, a mayday call or trauma care – assume the leaders or those responsible will not be available.
Communication is key
Those who need to know should: Ensure that your passage plan is well documented and that you establish RV points with estimated time windows. Inform your DPA that you’re at “RV Green” and towards “RV Red”.
Link to and keep all military organisations and forces in the region informed of your transit; this ensures that you are on their radar, increases their situation awareness and reduces the chance of a miscalculation.
Operational Trade Craft
Reducing risk involves proactive strategies like maintaining a vigilant 360° watch in high-risk areas. Night transit through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is recommended to minimise detection, and the use of night vision equipment can be advantageous. Limiting Automatic Identification System (AIS) data and tactical positioning so that other vessels are between you and the Yemeni coast can provide additional safety layers.
Continuous communication with maritime security centres is essential, as is the immediate reporting of any unusual activity. In the event of a threat, superyachts should leverage their manoeuvrability to evade aggressors, employing unpredictable movements to complicate targeting.
By adopting these proactive strategies and maintaining a state of high alert, superyacht operators can navigate the Red Sea with confidence, ready to face and adapt to rapidly evolving threats. A vigilant and well-prepared crew is the best defence against the unpredictable.
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