Philippines armed forces

Political Violence at Sea | Volume 4

November 15, 2020

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

This is the fourth edition of a monthly newsletter that will highlight recent newsworthy events and developments in the activities of violent non-state actors at sea. It will serve as a platform for ongoing analysis as we expand the scope of existing research focused on combating maritime terrorism. We hope that it provides insights and analysis which will help to inform security decision-making both at sea and on land.

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

Featured Content - Marawi Siege: Stories from the Front Lines–Chapter 1, The Raid, Carmela Fonbuena for Rappler, October 16, 2020.

Three years after the successful defeat of the Maute Group and their occupation of Marawi, the first chapter from a new book on the topic by Carmela Fonbuena has been published online by Rappler. The Maute Group occupied Marawi City for 5 months before being ousted by a successful operation conducted by government forces. After facing near-total defeat, the group had remained out of the public eye until recently. News reports this month indicate a possible resurgence of the group, making this analysis of their famous siege even more important and timely. 

The initial chapter of Fonbuena’s book details how a failed raid conducted by Philippine Army Special Operations Command pushed the militants into launching their attack on Marawi earlier than planned.

Maute Group Map Incidents

The map and the radar plot above are taken from our recent report, Political Violence at Sea: How Terrorists, Insurgents, and other Extremists Exploit the Maritime Domain.​






US–Morocco Cooperation

Following a visit to Morocco by then-US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the two countries have signed a 10-year military cooperation deal. The agreement aims to strengthen military cooperation with one of the US's most important non-NATO allies. Although details of the plan have yet to be released, the US and Morocco have previously held several joint exercises together, including the large-scale exercise Operation African Lion.

Esper Signs 10-year US Military Cooperation Deal with Morocco, Associated Press for Military Times, October 4, 2020.

New US Homeport on Crete

The US will soon establish a new military homeport on the Greek island of Crete. The location will give the US better access to the Mediterranean in light of an increasingly active Libyan National Army. The vessel that will call this port home is the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, which will "look south" and help with training exercises in Africa.

Eye On Africa, Navy’s New Ship Homeports in Crete, Paul McLeary for Breaking Defense, October 2, 2020.

US–Africa Naval Cooperation

The commandant of the US Coast Guard and the commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa have discussed their interest in working with African partner nations in order to increase maritime security through the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership Program. Both forces offer a wealth of technical training opportunities in addition to the US’s expansive capabilities and international relationships. Increased cooperation between the US and Africa can assist both by strengthening relationships and building capacity in partner nations. In late September, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced a cooperation agreement to last through 2030. Additional partnerships and agreements will help secure African coasts and assist in the fight against extremism and terror.

US Looks to Increase Cooperation with African Navies, Dean Wingrin for Defence Web, October 19, 2020.


Navy Divers Practice Land-Based EOD

A group of navy divers based at Horsea Island practiced land-based explosive ordnance disposal, or EOD, during a recent 10-day exercise. The divers typically do not operate on land, but the hope is that the skills practiced there will assist with their maritime-oriented missions. This exercise also shows that there is much to be gained by dissolving the barriers between land-oriented and maritime-oriented missions.

Royal Navy Divers Face “Suicide Bombers” and Drone Bombs in NATO Drill, Tom Cotterill for The News, October 6, 2020.


Ghana Calls for Maritime Security

As part of comments made during the commission of a new Naval Training Command, President Akufo-Addo of Ghana called for increased maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. He acknowledged the wide variety of ways that both organized criminal activity and political violence can occur on the seas and noted that new and creative methods must be established to deal with these threats.

Equip Naval Officers With Creative Solutions to Deal With Maritime Challenges–Akufo-Addo, Ivy Setordjie for Joy Online, October 23, 2020. 



Arms Smugglers Reveal Details

Arms smugglers arrested in May have revealed the system of training and supply that facilitated their trade. During interrogation the four men explained details of smuggling routes, their training in Iran, and how they were recruited. This connection gives more insight into how Iran supports and supplies various violent non-state actors.

Revealed: How Iran Smuggles Weapons to the Houthis, Saeed Al-Batati for Arab News, October 1, 2020.

Houthi Drone Boat Destroyed 

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen claims to have destroyed another Houthi drone boat. Details about the incident are minimal, but the interception of the drone boat occurred near the al-Hudaydah governorate's port of Salif.

Arab Coalition in Yemen Foils Houthi Attack in Red Sea, Arab News, October 6, 2020.

Gulf of Aden Security Review, Critical Threats, October 7, 2020.

UN Pursues FSO Safer Inspections

The FSO Safer, an oil tanker rusting away in Houthi-controlled territory in the Red Sea, continues to threaten maritime ecology and trade. Although talks failed last month, UN officials are continuing to pursue an agreement to allow inspections and possible maintenance of the vessel.

UN Renews Calls for Access to Safer as Fighting Rages in Hodeidah, Saeed Al-Batati for Arab News, October 7, 2020.

Sea Mine Damages Vessel

An Aframax tanker was damaged by a sea mine near the port of Bir Ali in Yemen. Although no group has yet claimed the attack, the Houthis have previously deployed sea mines in the region. Initial reports suggested that the vessel and its 500,000 barrels of oil had sunk, but the vessel was found to be able to move under its own power and headed towards the UAE to transfer its cargo before undergoing repairs.

Aframax Mine Blast Off Yemen Puts Shipping on Alert, Sam Chambers for Splash, October 9, 2020.

Tanker Loading Crude Damaged by Floating Mine in Yemen, Edward Lundquist for Sea Power, October 9, 2020.

Fighting in Port City

Over the past several months, the port city of Hodeidah has been relatively free from the chaos of the Yemeni civil war. However, the breakdown of a ceasefire has led to a recent escalation of fighting. The violence in Hodeidah will likely further complicate the conflict and lead to increased stress on the already strained food supply; nearly 90 percent of Yemen’s food is imported, most of which comes in through Hodeidah.

Fighting Escalates in Yemen’s Port City of Hodeidah, Michael Horton & John Foulkes for Terrorism Monitor, October 13, 2020.

Iranian Spy Ship

A maritime security expert has asserted that over the last three years, a seemingly innocent merchant ship may have been operating as a forward observation base for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Saviz is registered as a merchant ship, but its location (anchored just off the coast of Yemen) and lack of movement, in addition to reports of uniformed men aboard, may belie an ulterior motive. It is possible that the ship has played a role in hostilities in the region, including in attacks against tankers. However, its status as a civilian vessel continues to protect it.

Iranian Spy Ship Commands Strategic Position on Vital Oil Route, H.I. Sutton for USNI News, October 26, 2020.


Somali Pirates Hold No More Hostages

Of the 3,600 hostages taken by Somali pirates over the last 5 years, none remain in custody. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), three Iranian fishermen captured in 2015 were the final remaining hostages and were released in September. However, the threat of piracy remains and the IMB urges caution for vessels traversing waters with a history of piracy.

No More Hostages Held by Somali Pirates, Defence Web, October 2, 2020.

Illegal Arms Interdicted

Off the coast of the Somali peninsula, the Puntland Maritime Police Force seized several vessels suspected to be illegally transporting weapons to Puntland. Although no group has yet been implicated, al-Shabaab has been well known to be involved in the arms trade between Yemen and Somalia. However, IS Somalia has close ties with their affiliate, IS Yemen, and may be involved in the transfer of arms between the two groups.

Yemeni Boats Carrying Weapons Seized in Puntland, Halbeeg, October 25, 2020.


Ansar al-Sunna’s Maritime Operations

The insurgency in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique continues to grow in scope and intensity. The IS-affiliated militant group Ansar al-Sunna has exploited the coastal waters of Mozambique for operational purposes, including transportation of fighters and the looting of food and other resources from island communities. These operations will continue as long as the maritime space remains uncontested.

Although the insurgents have recently begun a westward offensive, their presence in coastal waters remains steady. While helicopters operated by the private military contractor Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) managed to destroy several boats, the loss of these resources has had minimal impact on insurgent capabilities. Unfortunately, it appears that civilians were also in the boats destroyed by DAG, possibly adding to local grievances against the Mozambique government.

Also of note this month is the increase in food and fuel prices in Cabo Delgado due to the continued occupation of the port city of Mocimboa da Praia (MdP). Food is increasingly difficult to obtain and the government’s recent ban on exports to MdP will make it more difficult for militants and civilians alike to procure food.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 26 October–1 November 2020, ACLED, November 3, 2020.

Cabo Ligado Weekly: 19 October–25 October 2020, ACLED, October 27, 2020.


New Turkish Drone

A new drone will give Turkey increased capabilities for both land and naval warfare. The Aksungur ASW drone’s maritime weapons package will allow for a 750-kilogram payload in addition to intelligence-gathering capabilities. Of note are the sonobuoy pod and magnetic anomaly detector, which will allow it to gather anti-submarine intelligence. This new system will allow the Turkish navy to have a much larger and more detailed picture of the maritime domain.

Turkey Makes New Advances in Land and Naval Warfare with Introduction of Aksungur ASW Drone, Can Kasapoglu for Terrorism Monitor, October 13, 2020.



Increase in Piracy and Robbery

According to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), the period of January to September 2020 experienced a total of 75 incidents of piracy and armed robbery in Asia. This is an increase of 39 percent over the same period last year. Despite this, ReCAAP has witnessed improvements in ports and anchorages in China and Malaysia.

Asia Pacific: Piracy, Armed Robbery Incidents in Asia Rise 39%, Rhys Berry for Bunker Spot, October 16, 2020.


Curfew Extended

A sea-travel curfew along Sabah's east coast has been extended for an additional two weeks in an effort to protect against transnational criminal and terrorist activity such as the kidnapping for ransom schemes conducted by Abu Sayyaf. The curfew was slated to expire but was extended. The curfew, which lasts from dusk to dawn and was first implemented in 2014, covers areas up to 3 nautical miles off of Tawau, Semporna, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Kinabatangan, Sandakan, and Beluran. Travel for essential personnel is still allowed and permits for fishing activities are issued to eligible applicants.

Malaysia Extends Maritime Curfew in Eastern Sabah Security Zone, Vietnam News Agency for VietnamPlus, October 2, 2020.


US–Singapore Partnership

During a teleconference, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday and Singapore Chief of Navy Rear Admiral Aaron Beng Yao Cheng reaffirmed the close engagement between their two countries. The two navies operate together during exercises and seek to continue strengthening cooperation and interoperability.

 U.S., Singapore Navy Chiefs Reaffirm Continued Partnership, SeaPower, October 7, 2020.


Coast Guard Apprentice Arrested for Terrorism

A coast guard apprentice seaman was arrested along with two members of Abu Sayyaf who were in possession of IED component materials, a handgun and ammunition, hand grenades, and an Islamic State flag. Investigations into the extent of the relationship between the apprentice seaman and Abu Sayyaf are ongoing.

Coast Guard Member Nabbed with Abu Sayyaf Bombers in Zamboanga, Rambo Talabong for Rappler, October 12, 2020.

Maute Group Reforms

There are reports that the Maute Group has begun to regroup under the banner of a new leader, Faharudin Hadji Satar (also known as Abu Bakar). The Maute Group is best known for the siege of Marawi, which, while ultimately unsuccessful, lasted five months and devastated the city, displacing 125,000 civilians and leaving nearly 1,000 militants dead.

Marawi Militants Regroup Under New Leader, Philippine Commander Says, Froilan Gallardo for Benar News, October 16, 2020.

Marawi Shows Importance of Prevention

During the commemoration of the Siege of Marawi, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) underlined the importance of prevention in counterterrorism strategies. The AFP is working with the departments of education, social welfare, and development to better deter and prevent the radicalization of citizens and undermine terror group recruitment campaigns.

AFP: Marawi Crisis a Reminder That Anti-Terrorism Campaign Should Also Include Prevention, GMA News, October 18, 2020.

Vessel Acquisition

The Philippine National Police have acquired 22 High-Speed Tactical Watercraft. The new vessels, equipped with machine guns and automatic grenade launchers, are capable of 47 knots and will be used to patrol the waters around Cebu.

PNP Acquires 22 Speed Boats from Danao City Manufacturer, Sunstar/Yahoo News, October 19, 2020.

Seaborne Operations Specialization

The chief of the Philippine National Police has called for the Special Action Force to specialize in seaborne operations in order to better respond to maritime threats and combat Abu Sayyaf. The Special Action Force is a specially trained and equipped unit that specializes in counterinsurgency and anti-crime operations.

Cascolan Wants SAF to Specialize in Seaborne Operations, Aaron Recuenco for Manila Bulletin, October 25, 2020.


US–India Maritime Security Dialogue

The United States and India held a third "2+2" ministerial dialogue this month. The dialogue series focuses on the bilateral relationship between the two countries on topics such as the Indo-Pacific, maritime security, and counterterrorism.

2+2 Dialogue Focuses on Indo-Pacific, Maritime Security, Counter Terrorism, United News of India, October 27, 2020.


Australia Joins Naval Drills

Australia has joined the Malabar 2020 naval exercises being jointly conducted by the US, Japan, and India. Phase one of the exercise, held in the Bay of Bengal early this month, is a sign of increased cooperation between the "Quad" countries. The second phase will be held in the Arabian Sea. While increased maritime domain awareness and cooperation are the key pursuits of the exercise, China has previously denounced the Quad alliance as an attempt to disrupt Chinese development.

Australia Will Join Naval Drills Involving India, U.S., Japan, Sanjeev Miglani & Kirsty Needham for Reuters, October 19, 2020.