Philippines: Three fishermen missing, presumed kidnapped in Sulu Sea
Three Indonesian fishermen have gone missing in the Sulu Sea off the southern Philippines. Multiple sources indicated the men, who went missing on 18 January, were kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has targeted maritime vessels in waters between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines since 2016.
PGI Analysis: It is likely the kidnappers are members of Abu Sayyaf Group, an Islamic State-allied Islamist group known to operate in the southern Philippines and in waters off the Sulu Archipelago. The precise location of the kidnapping is unclear, although it comes days after the Philippine coast guard discovered a crewless boat floating in the Sulu Sea’s Langawan island area, near the border with Malaysia’s Sabah. Commercial vessels have avoided the Sulu and Celebes seas between Borneo and the southern Philippines since kidnappers shifted to targeting commercial vessels in October 2016, having previously focused attacks on fishing vessels and tugs in the region.
Philippines: Troops free two Filipino ASG captives in Sulu
Two Filipino hostages of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) were freed by government forces in Barangay Tagbak, Indanan town, Sulu province. The victims were seized by ASG gunmen from a vessel off Sulu on 25 October 2016. Security forces said their captors had fled by the time they arrived. The IS-linked group is thought to have a number of captives, including other European and Asian nationals, in its custody elsewhere in Sulu.
PGI Analysis: It remains unclear whether a ransom was paid to secure the hostages’ release. Local reports indicate militants released the hostages and told them to go to Barangay Tagbak where the military was expecting them, indicating the release had been pre-arranged. The men were initially abducted from fishing vessels. ASG are thought to currently hold 23 hostages including Dutch, German, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese and Filipino nationals. ASG are known to execute abductees unless ransom demands are met.
Nigeria: Navy deploys troops to counter oil theft in Rivers state
The navy begun its “Operation Rivers Sweep”, deploying troops to aid the fight against illegal refineries and oil theft in Rivers state. According to Commander James Oluwole, the operation will focus specifically on the Onne general area, where intelligence indicates a high concentration of illegal refineries. Oil theft is a persistent problem in the Niger rivers area, with organised groups stealing crude oil and illegally refining it in small-scale operations throughout the Niger Delta.
Nigeria: Troops kill pirates in Bayelsa
Local media reported a suspected pirate and boat driver were killed by security forces over the weekend of 14-15 January in Polaku, Bayelsa state. The two were shot dead in possession of weapons that the authorities suspect were intended for pirates operating in Kolokuma and Opokuma. Local media suspected police conducted the operation based on a tip-off.
PGI Analysis: The navy has launched several military operations targeting criminality in the Niger Delta creeks in recent months amid a restructuring of the Joint Task Force to improve the implementation of security operations in the region. The restructuring comes amid reports by residents of extrajudicial killings by armed forces in the area, further exacerbating tense relations between local communities and the government, and potentially increasing the recruitment rates of locals into criminal groups.
Select Maritime News
Bangladesh: Robbers steal from container ship at Chittagong
Four robbers armed with knives boarded an anchored Liberia-flagged container ship at 1955 hrs local time, using a hook attached with a rope. Duty crew spotted the robbers and raised the alarm, causing the crew to muster. Upon seeing the crew alerted, the robbers fled with the ships’ stores. The incident was reported to the Port Control and Chittagong Coast Guard. Several hours later, the Coast Guard notified the ship that two suspicious boats were stopped and searched but the stolen stores were not recovered.
China: Hong Kong police seize illegal jade bound for mainland
Police confiscated seven large raw jade stones in an anti-smuggling operation in Hong Kong, though four suspected smugglers evaded capture by escaping on a speedboat. The police chased the smugglers by boat off Lantau island, after the haul was seized around 2000 hrs local time at Sham Wat Road. Officials believe the seven football-sized jade stones were bound for the Chinese mainland.
Cote d’Ivoire: Update: Abidjan port resumes activity after gendarme mutiny
The Autonomous Port of Abidjan resumed activity after gendarmes responsible for its security mutinied on 18 January and shut off all entries to the port. The government reportedly negotiated the reopening of the port. Gendarmes fired into the air and ordered port workers to leave the premises, resulting in the army shutting off access routes to the port. The incident followed other gendarme mutinies in Bouaké and Abijan amid unrest following a two-day army mutiny on 6 January.
Cote d’Ivoire: Gendarmes block access to Abidjan port
Gendarmes responsible for securing access to the port of Abidjan blocked off all entrances to the port, including the Houphouët-Boigny Bridge, and fired shots into the air. Shooting had stopped by 1200 hrs local time and the government announced that negotiations to end the blockade were underway. The incident comes as other gendarmes mutiny in Abidjan over pay amid unrest following a two-day mutiny on 6-7 January.
Cuba: Washington, Havana agree to cooperate on search and rescue operations
Cuba and the US signed an agreement that will allow greater bilateral cooperation in air and maritime search and rescue operations. The accord seeks to increase bilateral effectiveness in attending to the victims of accidents, including illegal migrants attempting to leave Cuba, and will also permit the undertaking of joint exercises, periodic checks of communications channels, reciprocal visits by experts and information exchange. Cooperation between the two countries has increased considerably since the normalisation of relations was first announced in December 2014.
Ecuador: Robbers steal from vessel at Guayaquil Anchorage
Unidentified assailants boarded an anchored bulk carrier docked at Guayaquil Outer Anchorage in Ecuador at 0255 hrs local time. The robbers stole the ship’s properties and escaped, and the theft was noticed by the duty crew during routine rounds. The incident has been reported to local authorities.
Kenya: Fishermen uncover five live bombs in Lake Victoria
Fishermen found five live bombs in their nets while fishing in Lake Victoria, prompting police to suspect the lake was used as dumping ground for ammunition during World War II. The discovery came one month after another group of fishermen found six live bombs near Ike Beach in Sindo town.
Iran: Reuters says shippers devise full coverage scheme
According to a report from Reuters, shipping insurers have devised a method to ensure nearly full coverage for Iranian exports from February. The new initiative will allow for the reinsurance of vessels without the involvement of US firms, who remain subject to US restrictions on trade and investment with Iran despite the lifting of nuclear related sanctions in January 2016. Officials said that regional tensions and banking issues remain impediments to maritime transactions with Iranian entities.
Israel: Government strengthens navy to secure offshore fields
Reuters reported Israel was investing new funds in its navy to help protect major offshore oil and gas fields discovered over the past decade. The defence ministry declined to disclose precise spending figures, but new warships, patrol boats and systems designed to defeat projectiles were reportedly to be fielded in the coming years. During the August 2014 conflict with Israel, the Gaza-based militant group Hamas unsuccessfully targeted an offshore gas platform in a rocket attack.
Panama: Panama Canal to reduce booking slots
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced that from 20 January it would temporarily reduce the number of bookings slots for vessels. The measure was announced in response to concerns from shippers over extended waiting times currently being experienced by vessels, according to the ACP. The reduction will remain in effect until further notice.
Syria: Moscow, Damascus sign deal to expand base at Tartus
Russia and Syria signed an agreement on expanding the territory of the Russian Navy’s logistics facility at Tartus port. The agreement will be effective for 49 years. Up to 11 Russian vessels including nuclear ships will simultaneously stop at the naval facility.
The Gambia: Media report Nigerian navy deploys warship
Local media reported that the Nigerian navy deployed the NNS Unity warship to The Gambia in anticipation of a potential military intervention by troops from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). ECOWAS issued a warning to President Yahya Jammeh that it would take forceful action if Jammeh refused to step down on 19 January, the day his term ends. Jammeh initially conceded defeat in the presidential election held on 1 December 2016, but subsequently backtracked and challenged the results in the Supreme Court.
Tunisia: Ambassador continues attempts to repatriate detained fishermen
The Egyptian ambassador to Tunisia said that he was working to return 14 Egyptian fishermen detained near Sfax port in recent days for illegal fishing. Tunisia said that the fishermen were not being detained but that investigations were ongoing. Egyptian fishermen are occasionally detained by authorities for illegally fishing in the Red Sea and Mediterranean. The Tunisian agricultural ministry official said that there had been a marked increase in Egyptian boats fishing in Tunisian waters without a licence.
Venezuela: Oil spill halts operations at Jose terminal
Shipping operations at one of the three docks at Jose port, Venezuela’s main crude exporting port, were halted after an oil spill, union and shipping sources told Reuters. The spill, which took place while a vessel bound for India was loaded at the port’s Eastern dock, and whose size has not yet been disclosed, also affected other tankers close to the crude carrier (VLCC) Nave Quasar, chartered by India’s Reliance Industries. Operations are expected to resume after the completion of clean-up works.
Vietnam: Tokyo to supply six new patrol ships to Hanoi
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced during his visit to Hanoi that Japan will supply Vietnam with six new patrol ships, amid persistent tensions over Chinese activities in the disputed South China Sea. Vietnam has been building up its military since 2014, and Japan has been one of its top supporters given Tokyo’s own jurisdictional disputes with China. Japan already supplied Vietnam with six used patrol boats in September 2016.
Source: Protection Vessels International