One of our chemical tankers recently had a close encounter with suspicious skiffs in the vicinity of Bab El Mandap, near Djibouti and Yemeni waters.
The vessel was on a loaded passage from Yanbu, Saudi Arabia to Singapore, when the watch keeper on duty observed fast approaching skiffs coming at the vessel from the port aft quarter.
On initiation of the alarm, both the crew and the armed escort guards mustered to instigate the response measures according to our standard operating procedures (SOP’s) in this scenario. MSI Management in Singapore, UKMTO and CMF151, a Japanese warship in the area, were immediately notified of the situation.
At this time, a total of 7 skiffs, with 4 to 5 people on board, continued to approach the vessel and closed to 0.62 Nautical miles.
As per SOP’s, the vessel had increased engine speed to max RPM. The vessel foghorn was sounded to draw attention of the skiffs to the visibly placed armed guard, and their weapons, in a measured attempt to dissuade them from further approach. Although no weapons were observed by the vessel on the skiffs, they could make out ladders on each of them which is a strong indication of their intention to board and they continued to run parallel to the vessel for more 15 minutes.
At this point, a helicopter arrived from the Japanese Warship CMF151. Its appearance was enough to convince the skiffs to alter their course parallel to the vessel and return, presumably to their mother ship.
The crew and guards worked well as a team, and their conduct was decisive. This was key to effectively implementing our SOP’s, providing a satisfactory outcome to the situation with no shots fired. It is also reassuring that the international military presence in the region is proving an effective force in the defence against marine piracy.
We always like to remind all crew to remain vigilant especially when transiting high-risk areas in the Gulf of Aden, West Africa and Malacca Straits and maintain strict compliance with safety and security protocols in accordance to the Ship Security Plan and ISPS requirements.