A secure corridor patrolled last year by naval warships in the Gulf of Aden and Bab Al Mandeb has been effective in curbing attacks on shipping.
Surveillance along the route, called the Maritime Security Transit Corridor, was meant to prevent attacks from small, high-speed boats filled with explosives – spillovers from the Yemen conflict and piracy raids off the coast of Somalia.
“The purpose of the Maritime Security Transit Corridor is to provide a recommended merchant traffic route around which naval forces can focus their presence and surveillance efforts, and we continue to recommend that all vessels use the MSTC to benefit from military presence and surveillance,” said Lt Cmdr Craig Sharland, deputy public affairs officer of the Combined Maritime Forces.
There are 32 nations, including the UAE, that make up the combined forces and which share a goal of providing security and stability across the region.
The two-way corridor directly links Bab Al Mandeb, a strait that is a crucial avenue for oil shipments, with the internationally recommended transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden.
Apart from anti-piracy, the navies focus on broader maritime security, counter-terrorism in the Arabian Gulf and keeping a free flow of international trade.
Navies have played a key role in disarming suspected pirate vessels before they pose a threat and in co-ordinating rescue efforts in the event of an attack.
“The drivers of piracy are still in place, so we assess that it is only suppressed,” he said.
The CMF said the level of pirate activity varied due to changing weather conditions and it encouraged merchant vessels transiting through high threat areas to follow guidance in threat assessments and bulletins regarding best practices that should be followed by vessels during and around the monsoon season.
“Given the enduring piracy threat to merchant vessels throughout the Gulf of Aden, Bab Al Mandeb and Southern Red Sea areas, CMF strongly encourages all vessels operating within the area to follow up to date guidance,” Lt Cmdr Sharland said.
“All year round, we remain committed to the enduring task of maritime security operations and actively adapt our methods dependent on the changing situation. Focused operations take place regularly, aimed at both enhancing the coalition's ability to work together towards a common goal, and reminding merchant vessels that the threat of piracy remains very real.”
Naval forces have played a key role from disarming suspected pirate vessels before they pose a threat and coordinating rescue efforts in case of an attack.
Intelligence collection and information sharing were key to restraining pirates.
The EU Naval Force’s Maritime Security Centre in London registers more than 85 per cent of all maritime traffic, allowing officers to monitor and co-ordinate to assist with any incidents.
“In terms of counter-piracy operations in recent years we have seen a dramatic reduction in attacks and this trend continues,” Lt Col David Fielder, the Royal Marines spokesman with the EU force.
“However we encourage a constant networked approached with all maritime partners both military and commercial; this helps in a free flow of maritime traffic in the area. It needs constant effort and attention.”
The EU Naval Force and the Combined Maritime Forces meet in Bahrain twice a year. They issue threat assessment bulletins when attacks take place and conduct counter-piracy patrols.
“This passage of information provides industry with an awareness of the current situation that allows correct risk assessments to be made,” he said.
“We conduct training and exercises with partners including the Combined Maritime Forces, which allows us to understand how we inter-operate and keeps our skills and capabilities at a very high level,” said Lt Col Fielder.
“The force is encouraging closer co-operation and co-ordination of all counter-piracy forces in the region and this includes Chinese, Russian and Indian maritime forces.”
Warships of the CMF and EU Navfor along with helicopters and aircraft conducted counter-piracy operations across the Gulf of Aden and around the Somali coast earlier this year.