Warning flares fired against pirates near Stena tanker

KSL Sydney
KSL Sydney

Stena Bulk confirmed on 6 November that its 49,750 dwt chemical tanker, Stena Imperial, was approached by suspected pirate vessels in the Red Sea, west of Yemen, on 3 November.

The incident came two days after another merchant ship was approached by three small boats with four or five people on board near Bab al Mandab between Yemen and Horn of Africa, according to a report filed to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

Stena said two suspicious skiffs were seen approaching Stena Imperial from the port side at a distance of 2.4 km.

The alarm was raised and the master and onboard security team mustered on the bridge.

The skiffs broke off the approach after hand flares were fired towards them as warning shots. One of the skiffs that passed astern made a second approach and the security team again fired hand flares as a warning.

The skiff then slowed down and moved towards another vessel, Stena said.

“On the whole, the pirate situation in the Gulf of Aden has calmed down and there have not been any hijackings for a long time,” said Stena Bulk chief executive Erik Hånell.

“But when we sail off the coast of Yemen, we choose to use guards due to the lawless state prevailing in the country at the moment. This has created the same kind of desperation in the population that we saw in Somalia a number of years ago.”

There are three or four former soldiers in each security team on board ships passing through high-risk areas off the coasts of Yemen and Nigeria.

The two latest incidents come two weeks after 181,009 dwt bulker KSL Sydney was attacked in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia on 16 October.

Armed guards on board the Golden Ocean-operated Capesize bulker engaged in small arms fire with the attackers, who were equipped with ropes and hooks ready for boarding, before the suspected pirates withdrew.

EU NAVFOR naval ships and aircraft were deployed to search for the pirate vessel and found a suspected whaler and skiff used in the attack. The whaler was seized and destroyed by an EU NAVFOR warship on 27 October.

UKMTO and EU NAVFOR have advised vessel operators to exercise caution when transiting the area.

They are the first serious incidents this year after the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported six incidents, including two hijackings, in the Horn of Africa region in 2017.