With cruisers returning to the southern Red Sea, the multinational naval force Combined Task Force 151 is now looking to liaise with sailors about their experiences

Cruisers are returning to the southern Red Sea after years of avoiding the region due to the threat of piracy.

The Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), a multinational naval force set up in 2009 in response to piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, told Yachting Monthly there has been a steady increase in maritime traffic and yachts are routinely making the transit through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

Soldier on a RIB in the Red Sea

The presence of naval warships and coordinated security has reduced piracy in the Red Sea region in recent years. Credit: Alamy

CTF 151 usually focuses on commercial shipping but now wants to engage with cruisers to promote best practice, reassure them about security in the region and gain feedback and observations on the effectiveness of CTF 151 activities.

Katy Stickland spoke to Commander Tasuku Kawanami and Lt Cdr Ben Cator RN, CTF 151 Strategic Communications Adviser, about the steps CTF 151 are taking to help sailors in the area.

Q: The Red Sea has been a no-go for yachts for years – what concerns do you have now yachts are returning to the area?

A: We understand that yachts routinely make the transit through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait however, we have been advised that there has been a steady increase in traffic since the worst years of piracy. Our issue is primarily that yachts are not required to register with UKMTO (Royal Navy’s United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, which provides maritime security information) or MSCHOA (European Union Naval Force’s Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa), although many do, nor are they required to use AIS.

We therefore, find it difficult to track them in the same way that we do for merchant vessels and our ability to assess the real level of traffic is hindered as a result. Tracking vessels by AIS and through the UKMTO allows us to respond quickly if there is a maritime security incident as we know where to start looking.

Tracking also allows us to gauge which routes are preferred by the various ships and yachts that come through and to build up a comprehensive picture of patterns of life by sailors in the area.

Q: Has piracy been suppressed there?

A: Piracy is suppressed, we have not had any successful attacks this year and the number of incidents is significantly lower than it was 5 years ago.

The constant presence of warships in the region has ensured that an effective deterrence is maintained. However, the drivers of piracy still exist so all vessels really should abide by the guidance laid down in Best Management Practices (BMP5), available from the MSCHOA website.

Q: Is it safe for them to be there?

A: Despite the low number of incidents, the conditions that cultivate piracy in Somalia are still present and the conflict in Yemen has led to an increase in conflict-related incidents. There will always be a risk of piracy to sailors transiting the area since yachts present easier targets than large merchant vessels.. That said, yachts are less likely to be targeted since they are harder to track and they are unlikely to offer as much value as the hijacking of a merchant vessel.

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Q: What precautions should cruisers take?

A: As a minimum, they should register with MSCHOA and UKMTO and make themselves aware of the incident reporting process.

A map showing the southern Red Sea

They should also use the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC) since this will provide them with a greater level of protection; warships conduct merchant vessel escorts daily so there is a higher chance that yachts will be within range of assistance should they be approached or attacked. They should make sure that they carry ample fuel before they enter the IRTC or the Southern Red Sea.

Please note that there have been several incidences of yachts requesting fuel from CMF vessels. This is not something that CMF are tasked with so we encourage yachts to plan sufficiently to ensure that they don’t find themselves short of fuel as they shouldn’t assume that assistance will be forthcoming.

CMF will always strive assist mariners within its standard SOLAS (safety of life at sea)  requirements, but may not be able to divert from the important military tasks which it undertakes to ensure the free flow of maritime traffic.

Please also note CMF do not conduct escorts; ships from India, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are the main contributors here. CMF ships patrol the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa as required by their counter-piracy or counter-terrorism tasking.

Q: Piracy has often just focused on commercial ships, and clearly remains your priority but what prompted the decision to turn to recreation sailors for information?

A: We want to ensure that the region is safe for all mariners and this means engaging as large an audience as possible.

We have found that the relative lack of incidents involving sailors and the fact that we can’t track them as easily as merchant vessens has meant that they receive less attention in terms of liaison. We therefore want to engage with sailors for three main reasons:

1. Reassure them that there is military presence in the region in order to deter piracy and armed robbery and respond to any maritime security incident which occurs.
2. To promote the use of best practice procedures in order to minimise the risk of an incident.
3. To gain feedback/observations in order to develop our understanding of the effectiveness of CTF 151 activities so that we can improve our operational methods.

In addition, an information pack specifically designed for yachts is under development and will be distributed by MSCHOA when available. This will complement existing Industry Releasable Threat Assessments and Bulletins to inform mariners of recent incidents and the most up to date threat information.

Q: What information are you seeking from them?

A: We are seeking two varieties: pattern of life (POL) reports and feedback for us. Pattern of life is comments on what they saw during the transit e.g. how many fishermen, were they threatening etc. Feedback is about whether our presence is effective i.e. whether patrolling warships are reassuring and whether/how many warships are seen or heard over radio during a transit. General feedback on sailors’ perceptions about the crossing will also be very useful. I can provide more specifics on this if you require.

Q: How can they get that information to you?

A: At sea, they should report incidents to UKMTO as a first point of contact (24/7 telephone number +44 (0) 2392 222060) and follow this up with a Channel 16 broadcast to any coalition warships in the vicinity. Regarding feedback and POL, the yachts should contact send feedback to cmf_info@me.navy.mil; this is only monitored during normal working hours.

Q: Are the seas globally getting safer or more dangerous?

A: I think that the ICC Commercial Crime Services is best placed to answer this question since their figures are global. Through some research, it would appear that the seas are moderately safer in general, but this does not mean that the risks have decreased everywhere. Sailors should always be cautious and pay attention to the various reporting websites in order to ensure that they understand the risks involved in any given region.

Q: What are the hotspots for maritime crime and piracy currently?

A: Statistically speaking, the Gulf of Guinea is the primary region for maritime crime of all kinds at the moment. We are not in a position to provide a detailed analysis of the region since we only look at the east coast of Africa but ICC Commercial Crime Services piracy updates and statistics speak for themselves.