Political Violence at Sea | Volume 2

September 15, 2020

A newsletter dedicated to providing curated news and analysis on terrorism and other acts of political violence in the maritime domain. 

Have a tip or an article you’d like to see featured in this newsletter? Email news and suggestions to stableseas@oneearthfuture.org or Tweet to @stableseas.

Featured Content: Gauging Maritime Security In West And Central AfricaYaounde Code of Conduct countries maritime security

Stable Seas’ most recent report, Gauging Maritime Security in West and Central Africa, analyzes the efficacy of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, the region’s preeminent maritime security framework. Drawing on nine measures of maritime security and governance, including fisheries, coastal welfare, and rule of law, the report tracks the progress of 19 littoral Yaoundé Code signatories. That there has been regional progress, collaboration, and cooperation on the issue areas is undeniable, but insecurity persists. Of particular concern are the frequent incidents of piracy and armed robbery, illicit trades which feed thriving black market economies, and weak maritime enforcement capacity, all of which embolden violent non-state actors in the region (e.g., Niger Delta pirates) and inhibit the effectiveness of countermeasures. To read more, including individual snapshots of the 19 littoral signatories, check out the report and summary blog post.

Recent Maritime Activities

political violence at sea map August 2020



Terrorism, Crime, and Covid-19

The nexus between terrorism and organized crime took center stage in the Security Council, with experts raising fresh concerns over opportunistic alliances emerging among belligerents who share a hostility towards national authorities and seek to exploit vulnerabilities created by the Covid-19 crisis.

Cross-border Links Between Terrorists, Organized Crime, Underscore Need for Coherent Global Response, UN News, August 6, 2020.



UK Adds to NATO Mission

The United Kingdom has launched its newest vessel—the HMS Trent. The River-class patrol ship is heading to the Mediterranean, where it will join NATO's Operation Sea Guardian. The EU mission is present in the Mediterranean for a variety of operations including countering smuggling and terrorism, border patrol, and fishery protection.

New Warship HMS Trent Embarks for the Mediterranean to Join NATO Operation, Alloa Advertiser, August 3, 2020.


Germany Adds to EU Mission

A German frigate, The Hamburg, departed for a 5-month deployment to assist an EU mission to stem the flow of arms into Libya. As the Libyan conflict enters its next phase, controlling arms flows becomes ever more important for long-term security.

Germany Deploys 250 Soldiers for Libyan Arms Embargo Mission, Al Jazeera, August 4, 2020.


Narco-Sub Seized

Colombian authorities seized a large narco-submarine capable of carrying 6 tons of cargo—4.5 tons more than the average narco-sub. This vessel was found in the jungle, having not yet had the opportunity to carry out its mission. Violent non-state actors that are active in Colombia, such as the ELN, have been known to use these vessels for trafficking drugs through the Caribbean and even across the Atlantic. There are similarities in design and build between this large narco-sub and another that was interdicted near Spain in 2019.

Unusually Large Narco Submarine May Be New Challenge For Coast Guard, H.I. Sutton for Forbes, August 10, 2020.


Ghost Glider

Spanish police captured a narco-submarine that has distinctly new features; the vessel has been dubbed the Ghost Glider. This comes on the heels of the capture of another narco-sub earlier in August. However, while the other narco-sub was designed to cross the Atlantic, this vessel seems to have been built domestically. The Ghost Glider is distinctive because of its advanced engineering and unique coloring. Although no drugs were found aboard, it is suspected that it was intended to quickly transport drugs from an offshore vessel.

Completely New Type of Narco Submarine Discovered in The Atlantic, H.I. Sutton for Forbes, August 31, 2020.


Defense Cooperation Agreement

A Defense Cooperation Agreement signed between France and Cyprus has gone into effect. Signed in April, the agreement covers cooperation over energy, crisis management, counterterrorism, and maritime security. 

This agreement comes into force during a time of increasing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly regarding Turkey and Cyprus.

Cyprus and France Establish Defense Cooperation Agreement, Paul Antonopoulos for Greek City Times, August 6, 2020.



Ansar al-Sunna Launches Offensive 

Ansar al-Sunna’s steady increase in tempo over the previous months has escalated into sustained operations against government forces in the city of Mocimboa da Praia, Mozambique, and the surrounding area. Ansar al-Sunna has successfully taken and held the port in Mocimboa da Praia against government attempts to expel the group. Unsurprisingly, Ansar al-Sunna continues to exploit weak maritime enforcement capabilities to continue outmaneuvering government forces and launch attacks against vulnerable civilians. These developments mark a major milestone in the increasingly violent conflict in northern Mozambique and represent clear victories for Ansar al-Sunna.

The loss of Mocimboa da Praia is a significant blow to the government of Mozambique and the citizens in surrounding areas. The port is strategic for resupplying counterinsurgency operations in northern Mozambique. The town and port have also been a central hub for the burgeoning liquid natural gas industry. In an attempt to retake the city and port, the navy sent two of its three HS132 Interceptors, one of which was subsequently destroyed and sunk by RPG fire. The gravity of the loss of this vessel is difficult to overstate.

If the government is unable to liberate Mocimboa da Praia, it is likely that Ansar al-Sunna will become further entrenched in the business infrastructure of the port. Additionally, the weakened naval capacity of state forces means that insurgents will likely continue operating unchallenged in the maritime domain, giving them a distinct advantage in mobility in a part of the world where navigable roads are rare.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 3-9 August 2020, ACLED, August 12, 2020.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 13-19 August 2020, ACLED, August 19, 2020.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 17-23 August 2020, ACLED, August 25, 2020.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 24-30 August 2020, ACLED, September 1, 2020.


Houthi Arms Smuggling

Iran has been accused in the past of sending arms and ammunition to Houthi insurgents in Yemen. Now, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has credible evidence showing that arms and ammunition are ending up on the black market in eastern Africa. Some of the weapons include standard AK-style rifles, light machine guns, and RPGs.

Arms smuggling is not an irregular occurrence in the region but has grown increasingly frequent. On several occasions over the past 6 months, authorities have noted seizures of arms and ammunition, as well as drugs, from vessels heading towards Houthi-controlled territory.

For example, in June the Yemeni coast guard interdicted a boat near Perim Island. The vessel was found to be carrying nearly 3 tons of ammunition packaged into plastic bags, as well as several AK-47s with the serial numbers removed. The three Yemeni citizens aboard the boat claimed to be headed to Sudan.

Officials suspected that the three were part of a much larger smuggling network between Iran, Yemen, Sudan, and other locations.

Conflict in Yemen Sees Iranian Arms Trafficked to Somalia, Will Neal for OCCRP, August 18, 2020.

Yemen Seizes Boat Loaded with Weapons in Red Sea, Saeed Al-Batati for Arab News, July 18, 2020.

Houthi Drone Boat

The Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthis announced the destruction of another drone boat. The boat was carrying explosives in the Red Sea and is suspected to have been targeting vessels transiting international shipping routes. Although the Houthis have not claimed responsibility, there have been multiple occurrences of drone boats operating near Houthi-controlled territory in the Red Sea.

Saudi-led Coalition Destroys Explosive-laden Drone, Boat Launched by Yemen's Houthis: SPA, Reuters, August 30, 2020.


Port Sudan Increases Security

In Sudan, the government imposed a curfew and increased security in Port Sudan due to clashes between two tribes that left 32 dead and 98 injured. The tribes have a history of violence and the government wished to stabilize the security situation before port activity was threatened. Port Sudan is the country's largest and most significant port and a major seaport in the Red Sea.

Sudan Boosts Security in Port City After 32 Die in Tribal Clashes, Reuters, August 13, 2020.



Securing Maritime Borders

Recent bombings have pushed the Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to call for stronger border security, calling the maritime environment a “maneuver space” for insurgent groups. 

PH Military Chief Calls For Stronger Border Security in Wake of Jolo Bombings, Frances Mongosing for Inquirer.Net, August 31, 2020. 


Thailand’s Maritime Terrorism

In Thailand, insurgent groups and organized crime syndicates exploit the maritime domain for a variety of activities, including smuggling weapons and drugs and transporting fighters. This article details how violent non-state actors sustain their fight against the Thai government through maritime activities. 

Thailand’s Deep South Insurgencies: Exploiting the Maritime Domain, Michael van Ginkel for The Diplomat, August 14, 2020.


Vessel Acquisition

Indonesia has launched two new PC-40M patrol boats that were manufactured domestically. They will be used in patrols from naval bases in Belawan, North Sumatra, and in Jayapura, Papua. The vessels have crews of 35 and are equipped with 30mm cannons which will be utilized in counter-smuggling and counterterrorism operations in addition to regular patrols.

In late July, two other PC-40M patrol boats were launched.

Indonesian Navy Launches Two Domestically Manufactured Warships, The Jakarta Post, August 25, 2020.

Indonesia Launches Two More PC-40-class Patrol Vessels, Ridzwan Rahmat for Janes, July 29, 2020.


Offers to Assist

The UNODC, the EU, and Germany all say that they are willing to assist Sri Lanka in securing its maritime space. Sri Lanka faces high levels of drug trafficking, organized crime, and fisheries crime in its surrounding waters.

UNODC Ready to Help Lanka Combat Maritime Drug Trafficking, Dilshan Tharaka for Daily News, August 24, 2020.