Gulf of Aden: The Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 seeks more liaison with cruisers

January 2019: With cruisers returning to the southern Red Sea after years of avoiding the region due to the threat of piracy, the multinational naval force Combined Task Force 151 is now looking to liaise with sailors about their experiences.

Published 4 years ago


In September 2018 Yachting Monthly published an interview with Officers of the Combined Task Force 151 (CMF151) about the efforts that they are making to assist yachtsmen transiting the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia and Yemen.

This followed a Noonsite survey undertaken by CTF 151 with the Noonsite community earlier in the year.

A number of points have been raised from the Yachting Monthly interview that noonsite considers needing clarification. The CTF 151 has been contacted for answers and when we have more feedback it will be posted on noonsite.

The points Noonsite raised follow the Yachting Monthly article.

Yachting Monthly Article – Published September 3, 2018

Red Sea cruisers return despite piracy threat

CTF 151, a multinational naval force set up in 2009 in response to piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, told Yachting Monthly there has been a steady increase in maritime traffic and yachts are routinely making the transit through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.

CTF 151 usually focuses on commercial shipping but now wants to engage with cruisers to promote best practice, reassure them about security in the region and gain feedback and observations on the effectiveness of CTF 151 activities.

Katy Stickland spoke to Commander Tasuku Kawanami and Lt Cdr Ben Cator RN, CTF 151 Strategic Communications Adviser, about the steps CTF 151 are taking to help sailors in the area.

Q: The Red Sea has been a no-go for yachts for years – what concerns do you have now yachts are returning to the area?

A: We understand that yachts routinely make the transit through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait however, we have been advised that there has been a steady increase in traffic since the worst years of piracy. Our issue is primarily that yachts are not required to register with UKMTO (Royal Navy’s the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, which provides maritime security information) or MSCHOA (European Union Naval Force’s Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa), although many do, nor are they required to use AIS.

We, therefore, find it difficult to track them in the same way that we do for merchant vessels and our ability to assess the real level of traffic is hindered as a result. Tracking vessels by AIS and through the UKMTO allows us to respond quickly if there is a maritime security incident as we know where to start looking.

Tracking also allows us to gauge which routes are preferred by the various ships and yachts that come through and to build up a comprehensive picture of patterns of life by sailors in the area.

Q: Has piracy been suppressed there?

A: Piracy is suppressed, we have not had any successful attacks this year and the number of incidents is significantly lower than it was 5 years ago.

The constant presence of warships in the region has ensured that an effective deterrence is maintained. However, the drivers of piracy still exist so all vessels really should abide by the guidelines laid down in Best Management Practices (BMP5), available from the MSCHOA website.

Q: Is it safe for them to be there?

A: Despite the low number of incidents, the conditions that cultivate piracy in Somalia are still present and the conflict in Yemen has led to an increase in conflict-related incidents. There will always be a risk of piracy to sailors transiting the area since yachts present easier targets than large merchant vessels. That said, yachts are less likely to be targeted since they are harder to track and they are unlikely to offer as much value as the hijacking of a merchant’s vessel.

Q: What precautions should cruisers take?

A: As a minimum, they should register with MSCHOA and UKMTO and make themselves aware of the incident reporting process.

They should also use the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC) since this will provide them with a greater level of protection; warships conduct merchant vessel escorts daily so there is a higher chance that yachts will be within the range of assistance should they be approached or attacked. They should make sure that they carry ample fuel before they enter the IRTC or the Southern Red Sea.

Please note that there have been several incidences of yachts requesting fuel from CMF vessels. This is not something that CMF are tasked with so we encourage yachts to plan sufficiently to ensure that they don’t find themselves short of fuel as they shouldn’t assume that assistance will be forthcoming.

CMF will always strive assist mariners within its standard SOLAS (safety of life at sea) requirements, but may not be able to divert from the important military tasks, which it undertakes to ensure the free flow of maritime traffic.

Please also note CMF does not conduct escorts; ships from India, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea are the main contributors here. CMF ships patrol the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa as required by their counter-piracy or counter-terrorism tasking.

Q: Piracy has often just focused on commercial ships, and clearly remains your priority but what prompted the decision to turn to recreation sailors for information?

A: We want to ensure that the region is safe for all mariners and this means engaging as large an audience as possible.

We have found that the relative lack of incidents involving sailors and the fact that we can’t track them as easily as merchant’s vessels have meant that they receive less attention in terms of liaison. We, therefore, want to engage with sailors for three main reasons:

1. Reassure them that there is a military presence in the region in order to deter piracy and armed robbery and respond to any maritime security incident, which occurs.

2. To promote the use of best practice procedures in order to minimize the risk of an incident.

3. To gain feedback/observations in order to develop our understanding of the effectiveness of CTF 151 activities so that we can improve our operational methods.

In addition, an information pack specifically designed for yachts is under development and will be distributed by MSCHOA when available. This will complement existing Industry Releasable Threat Assessments and Bulletins to inform mariners of recent incidents and the most up to date threat information.

Q: What information are you seeking from them?

A: We are seeking two varieties: pattern of life (POL) reports and feedback for us. The pattern of life is commented on what they saw during the transit e.g. how many fishermen, were they threatening etc. Feedback is about whether our presence is effective i.e. whether patrolling warships are reassuring and whether/how many warships are seen or heard over the radio during a transit. General feedback on sailors’ perceptions about the crossing will also be very useful. I can provide more specifics on this if you require.

Q: How can they get that information to you?

A: At sea, they should report incidents to UKMTO as the first point of contact (24/7 telephone number +44 (0) 2392 222060) and follow this up with a Channel 16 broadcast to any coalition warships in the vicinity. Regarding feedback and POL, the yachts should contact send feedback to [email protected]; this is only monitored during normal working hours.

Q: Are the seas globally getting safer or more dangerous?

A: I think that the ICC Commercial Crime Services is best placed to answer this question since their figures are global. Through some research, it would appear that the seas are moderately safer in general, but this does not mean that the risks have decreased everywhere. Sailors should always be cautious and pay attention to the various reporting websites in order to ensure that they understand the risks involved in any given region.

Q: What are the hotspots for maritime crime and piracy currently?

A: Statistically speaking, the Gulf of Guinea is the primary region for the maritime crime of all kinds at the moment. We are not in a position to provide a detailed analysis of the region since we only look at the east coast of Africa but ICC Commercial Crime Services piracy updates and statistics speak for themselves.

Noonsite Observations:

1. “There is no requirement for yachts to register with UKMTO” 

Noonsite has asked CTF 151 if there is anything that noonsite or the yachting community as a whole can do to encourage registration with UKMTO.

2. “We would like yachts to use AIS”. 

Historically there has been some reluctance to use AIS and skippers are aware of article 21 of the rules pertaining to the use of AIS which suggests that it should be switched off if the master of the vessel considers it might compromise his safety. Noonsite asked CTF 151 if they considered the defined benefits of switching on the AIS transmitter were greater than the possibility of their position being compromised by a piracy organization. Noonsite also asked if the command HQ monitored the AIS positions or was it just the coalition ships at sea that did so.

3. “Yachts are less likely to be targeted because they are harder to track” 

Noonsite asked if this was the case if yachts switched on their AIS and were it, therefore, safe to assume that pirate organizations were unlikely to be monitoring AIS even though all AIS positions can easily be observed on a number of websites.

4. “Tracking vessels by AIS and though the UKMTO allows us to respond quickly if there is a maritime security incident” 

Noonsite agreed that would certainly be true if UKMTO monitored the AIS, a question is still unresolved. The widespread use of the DSC facility on VHF transmitters provides almost instantaneous positions along with the nature of an emergency including a piracy attack.

5.” An information pack for yachts will be distributed when available” 

Noonsite asked if this could be made available for those yachts planning to make the transit through the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea in 2019.

6. “Pattern of Life Reports” 

Noonsite asked if a form would be provided to help produce a meaningful report and was there any more detail of the requirements that noonsite could publish.

As soon as noonsite receives a response from CTF 151 their answers will be posted here.

In the absence of a response from the CTF 151, noonsite suggests that when skippers register their details with MSCHOA they give details of their intentions with regard to their planned use of AIS.

Related content

Gulf of Aden & Horn of Africa: CTF 151 Report on Noonsite Community Survey Results

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or the World Cruising Club.

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  1. February 26, 2019 at 7:16 AM
    Data Entry2 says:

    Reply from Noonsite:

    The use of AIS remains a contentious one which is why we sought clarification from CTF 151 which is still forthcoming. We can therefore only repeat our suggestion that you advise MSCHOA of your intentions of if and when you intend to switch on your AIS.

  2. February 26, 2019 at 6:55 AM
    Data Entry2 says:

    AIS signal can be tracked both by CTF 151 and pirates. So, is it wise/recommended to transmit AIS by small yachts? What about rather using tracking devices like InReach?