US Maritime (US MARAD) updates its Gulf of Guinea, Red Sea/Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf security advisories


Published: 19 January 2021

Fast speedboat with Dutch Marines during an assault demo at the World Harbor Days in Rotterdam (photo)
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West Africa

The US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (US MARAD) has revised its advisory for the Gulf of Guinea (2021-002).

According to Risk Intelligence's Monthly Intelligence Report January 2021, attackers operating off the southern and eastern Niger Delta remain the most significant threat in the Gulf of Guinea. All types of vessels may be targeted, yet successful boardings are more likely on 'low and slow' vessel types such as small bulk carriers or product tankers, general cargo and offshore supply ships or fishing vessels.

The dry season in the Niger Delta, which will last roughly until March, allows for operations of small boats offshore and for attacks at significant distances from the coastline (potentially up to 250nm off the coastline in the dry season), including in the EEZs of neighbouring countries.

Throughout the Gulf of Guinea, the threat of kidnap-for-ransom attacks is assessed as moderate to high for the coming month, depending on the distance from the Niger Delta coastline where perpetrators have access to the necessary infrastructure to protect hostages from security forces and rival gangs during ransom negotiations.

The advisory revision therefore reflects the growing international concern for maritime security in West Africa and more specifically, the Gulf of Guinea. The advisory includes guidance for vessels transiting this area to visit the new Maritime Domain Awareness for Trade-Gulf of Guinea (MDAT-GoG) and the NATO Shipping Centre website for additional information on threats and specific recommendations. US flag vessels anchoring, transiting, or operating in this region must comply with their approved Vessel Security Plans. Additionally, the recently issued Best Management Practices - West Africa provides additional guidance and resources for operating in this area.

Supplemental information for US Mariners may also be found on the MARAD Office of Maritime Security website.

Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean

The US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (US MARAD) has also revised its advisory for the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean regions (2020-017).

The advisory warns that the conflict in Yemen continues to pose a risk to commercial vessels from threats which may come from a number of different sources including, but not limited to, missiles, rockets, projectiles, mines, small arms, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned surface vessels, or waterborne improvised explosive devices. Additionally, piracy continues to pose a threat in the Gulf of Aden, Western Arabian Sea, and Western Indian Ocean.

The MARAD advisory recommends vessels operating in this area to review security measures, ensure their AIS is always transmitting (except in extraordinary circumstances, consistent with provisions of SOLAS), and monitor VHF Channel 16. The following guidance is additionally provided and which is similarly encouraged by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) encourages Masters and shipowners to adhere to the following:

  • Conduct a pre-voyage risk assessment and incorporate appropriate protective measures into their vessel security plans. Take advice from available industry guidances such as the BMP5.
  • Avoid entering or loitering near Yemen's ports, and exercise increased caution if entering Yemen's territorial waters or Saudi territorial waters north of Yemen on the Red Sea.
  • Be especially vigilant when at anchor, operating in restricted manoeuvring environments, or proceeding at slow speeds.
  • Establish and remain in contact with the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Office (UKMTO) as per the BMP5. Immediately report any incident or suspicious incident.
  • Answer all VHF calls from coalition navies.
  • Register and report their vessels as per the BMP5 procedures.
  • Ensure that the vessel is hardened prior to entering the Red Sea/Gulf of Aden/Somalia/Arabian Sea/Indian Ocean high-risk areas.
  • While transiting through these waters it is essential to maintain a 24-hour visual and radar watch.

Persian Gulf

The US Department of Transportation Maritime Administration (US MARAD) revised its advisory for the Persian Gulf region on 7 January 2021 (2021-001).

Multiple maritime threats have been reported in these geographic areas, including a mine placed on the hull of a Liberian-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf off Iraq on 31 December 2020 and the Iranian seizure of a South Korean-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on 4 January 2021. Heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continue to pose serious threats to commercial vessels.

Associated with these threats is a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions. Vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman may also encounter GPS interference, bridge-to-bridge communications spoofing, and/or other communications jamming with little to no warning. Vessels have also reported bridge-to-bridge communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships.

In response to these attacks, the Round Table of Industry Associations and OCIMF jointly published a set of recommended risk mitigating measures for vessels operating in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea on 5 January 2021, which is also in line with US MARAD's guidances and is to be applied in conjunction with BMP5:

  • Undertake a new ship and voyage specific threat risk assessment before entering any region where there has been an incident, or the threat has changed.
  • After the risk assessment, review the Ship's Security Plan.
  • Review section 2 of BMP5, which outlines non-piracy threats.
  • Maintain a full and vigilant bridge watch. At night, slow small boats with no wake are difficult to spot on a radar.
  • Maintain a strict communication watch and establish communication with all vessels coming close. Do not allow small boats to approach or to come alongside. Use a searchlight for identification at night.
  • Ensure that strict boarding controls are in place.
  • Only lower accommodation gangways or ladders when necessary.
  • Rig outboard lighting where possible provided they do not interfere with keeping a safe lookout, particularly over the stern and rig/use searchlights if available.
  • Report any suspicious activity or objects immediately to both the port and UKMTO, see detailed " for the region.
  • Monitor relevant VHF and other communication channels.
  • Check that all fire-fighting equipment is available for immediate use. Make sure the emergency fire pump is available if any maintenance is being undertaken.
  • Keep the Automatic Information System (AIS) on. There is no need to complete the field stating the last or next port of call.
  • Conduct visual checks of the hull.
  • Undertake a visual search from the deck, all around the vessel to check for anything attached to the hull of the vessel. Particular attention should be paid to the hull at the waterline.
  • Conduct regular rounds and search the upper deck.
  • If a vessel detects anything unusual attached to the hull, then the Master should contact the UKMTO and Flag State immediately. All crew should be evacuated from the immediate area and mustered in a safe place. No attempt should be made to remove it. The vessel should follow the advice of the military authorities.

If a vessel is alerted to suspicious activity whilst at anchor, the following additional measures should be considered:

  • Rotate the propeller continuously or at short, irregular intervals.
  • Operate bow and stern thrusters at zero (0) thrust at irregular intervals.
  • Turn the rudder frequently.
  • Switch the echo sounder to transmit counter/combat swimmer/diver threat.

US MARAD additionally warns that all vessels should be aware that US and other coalition naval forces may conduct maritime awareness calls, queries, and approaches to ensure the safety of vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, and Arabian Sea. If a US flag commercial vessel suspects it is being hailed from a source falsely claiming to be a US or coalition naval vessel, or is being asked for positions or info on coalition military vessels or aircraft operating in the area, the US Fifth Fleet Battle Watch should be immediately informed:

Fifth Fleet Battle Watch: + 973-1785-3879 | E-mail:

The Maritime Global Security website offers industry issued best practices, including BMP5, guidance to mariners by geographic region, and provides contact and subscription information for regional maritime security reporting centres.