Thursday, August 15, 2019

US Navy Updates Warnings and Advice to Commercial Shipping Passing Iranian Waters

Series of Communications and Physical Attacks Spawn Latest Advice
Shipping News Feature
US – IRAN – The US Maritime Administration has issued its latest advisory notice, 2019-012, superseding any previous documents, regarding the heightening of military activity in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Red Sea. The document is aimed squarely at the behaviour of Iranian military forces since May 2019 and is very specific as to the type of threat which merchant vessels are under from that country.

In the time referred to the US lists all the maritime incidents which have occurred in this region including several attacks on commercial vessels including the attempted seizure of the MV British Heritage, the Riah, the Stena Impero and the Mesdar. The advisory goes into details of how in at least two of these incidents the vessels’ GPS systems were interfered with.

Furthermore there are reports of ‘spoof’ communications aimed at the target vessels, with the broadcasters claiming to be US or coalition warships, and one vessel reportedly shut off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) before it was seized, complicating response efforts. Vessels operating in this area are advised to review security measures, ensure AIS is transmitting at all times, and monitor VHF Channel 16.

The US has advised its own nationally flagged ships to register by email to both the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Office (UKMTO) at and US Fifth Fleet Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS) Watch at CUSNC.NCAGS_BW@MA.NAVY.MIL when entering the Indian Ocean Voluntary Reporting Area (VRA) by e-mailing each of them the Initial Report from Annex D of Best Management Practices to Deter Piracy and Enhance Maritime Safety in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea (BMP5).

The US is advising skippers that, if hailed by Iranian forces, US flagged commercial vessels should provide vessel name, flag state, and affirm that they are proceeding in accordance with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention before advising the US Fifth Fleet Battle Watch at CUSNC.BWC@ME.NAVY.MIL If boarded the crew should report the fact but not forcibly resist the boarding party.

The situation has probably not been helped in the recent past with the American President and other senior officials accused of sending mixed messages about the conditions required for seeking a diplomatic solution. Reports say that the ‘wildly different’ messages and terms for talks given to would be mediators like France, would appear to mean divided opinions among those tasked with the US approach to diplomacy in this case.

Photo: The attack on the Norwegian owned, Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair in June saw both US and Iranian naval personnel fighting the fire and rescuing crew after she was attacked in the Strait of Hormuz by unknown forces.