Suez Canal Update
The second lane of the Suez Canal has opened without incident on August 6th, 2015, and traffic through both lanes is flowing smoothly. However, while there is not an announced, imminent threat to the Canal or civilian shipping in the area, multiple incidents in the recent past show the enduring willingness of extremist groups to disrupt the flow of traffic in the region. Vessels should maintain strict compliance with current security policies and regulations when transiting through the area.
Suez Canal threats
Press reporting has indicated that extremist groups have threatened to disrupt the waterway, in particular during the inauguration ceremony of a second transit lane, on the 6th of August. Given the tense security situation in the waters surrounding the Sinai peninsula and in consideration of the attacks on the MV Cosco Asia in December 2013 and an Egyptian patrol boat on July 16th 2015, extensive Egyptian security operations have been widely reported in advance of the opening ceremony.
Attack on Egyptian Naval Vessel
As has been widely reported in the press, an Egyptian naval vessel was attacked in the vicinity of Rafah, Egypt, along the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. While there is not an identified, imminent threat to commercial shipping, this event, combined with the November hijacking of an Egyptian naval vessel and reports of a thwarted plot targeting the Suez Canal, highlights an increasingly tense security situation in the waters surrounding the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula. Vessels are encouraged to exercise increased vigilance when transiting through these areas.
Airstrike on vessel near Derna, Libya
Multiple news agencies have reported that an airstrike was conducted on a merchant vessel in vicinity of Derna, Libya on 10 May, resulting in the death of one crewmember and injury to another. This incident serves as a reminder that vessels passing near Libyan waters, particularly those transiting to or nearby Derna and Misrata, do so at risk of interaction with armed elements in Libya.
Central and Eastern Mediterranean Migrant Situation Update and Contacts
In order to better assist vessels in understanding the situation in the central and eastern Mediterranean Sea and in contacting the appropriate rescue organization expeditiously, the NATO Shipping Centre has consolidated some of the relevant information, which can be viewed here.
Airstrike on vessel near Sirte, Libya
News agencies have reported that an airstrike was conducted on a merchant vessel in the vicinity of Sirte, Libya on 24 May. Again a reminder that vessels passing Libyan waters, do so at risk of interaction with armed elements in Libya. Vessels intending to transit through this area are encouraged to conduct thorough risk assessments in advance of their voyages and when travelling through them, to do so expeditiously and with increased vigilance.
Yemen Maritime Security Situation
The maritime security situation in Yemeni waters remains volatile and the operating status of many ports is unclear. Press reporting indicates that vessels bound for Yemeni ports will require clearance and/or inspection prior to entering Yemeni territorial waters and ports. Vessels intending to call at Yemeni ports can expect delays and are strongly encouraged to engage with local shipping agents regarding port operations and entry requirements.
Open sources reporting indicates that regional military forces are conducting continued air and maritime operations in Yemen. Several countries are continuing to evacuate their citizens via Aden and Hodeida and reporting indicates possible separatists activities in southern Red Sea. Increased maritime traffic is expected as refugees attempt to cross the Gulf of Aden from Yemen. Additionally, press reports indicate that terrorists forces may have taken control of the eastern port city of Mukalla and attacked a military base. Although there is no specific reporting that indicates threats to merchant shipping by these forces, commercial vessels are highly encouraged to exercise increased vigilance while transiting the region, especially in the Bab el Mandeb and near Mukalla, and report any unusual activity.
Southeast Mediterranean Security Update
Press reports indicates that a fishing vessel in the vicinity of Libya was boarded by armed men. While the affiliation of these men is not confirmed, this incident highlights the continuing uncertain security situation in waters near Libya. Vessels intending to transit through this area are still encouraged to conduct thorough risk assessments in advance of their voyages and when travelling through them, to do so expeditiously and with increased vigilance.
Attack on Egyptian Naval Vessel
Multiple press sources have reported that an Egyptian Navy patrol boat was attacked on 12 November 2014 by armed militants aboard four small vessels approximately 40 nm from Damietta port. While there is not an identified, imminent threat to merchant traffic in the area, vessels transiting through the area are encourage to exercise increased vigilance and maintain close communication with port and flag state authorities and, as applicable, local shipping agents in accordance with the ISPS code. Any suspicious activity observed may be reported to the NATO Shipping Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 1923956574
NATO has historically maintained a presence in the Mediterranean and will continue to do so as we work with our partner nations to help ensure a prosperous maritime environment and foster strong relationships. In support of this mission, the permanently manned NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) is the primary point of contact for the exchange of merchant shipping information between NATO's military authorities and the international shipping community.
In light of the above, commercial shipping relies on the principle of freedom of movement on the high seas to conduct its day to day business. Maritime trade is a fundamental strategic interest to nations dependent on freedom of movement on the seas and their economic well-being. Military operations at sea will frequently involve, or have some impact, on merchant shipping and likewise, merchant shipping may affect military operations.
In order to both reduce conflict of interest between military and merchant shipping and to enhance safety and security at sea, NATO developed and implemented the concept of Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS). NCAGS is the provision of cooperation, guidance, advice and assistance to merchant shipping to enhance the safety and security of merchant ships in the vicinity of military activities like counter piracy or other military operations.
In conjunction with the above and as a supportive service of the NSC, NATO has conducted the counter-terrorism Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR continuously in the Mediterranean since 2001. The mandate of Operation Active Endeavour remains unchanged to conduct maritime operations in Mediterranean Sea to demonstrate NATO's resolve to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorism. Reducing the threat of terrorist attack requires constant vigilance on the part of the Alliance.
Additionally, and with support from the NSC, NATO conducts Operation OCEAN SHIELD, NATO’s counter piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa.