Crime & Justice

Pirates attack UK-flagged ship off Yemen’s coast

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations issued a warning on May 17th after a ship was attacked off the coast of Yemen, urging vessels transiting the area to exercise "extreme caution". [Screenshot from UKMTO website]

Pirates aboard two speedboats attacked a UK-flagged chemical tanker off the southern coast of Yemen on Sunday (May 17th), causing minor damage but leaving crew members unharmed.

"Pirates on Sunday attacked the Stolt Apal off the Yemeni coast, prompting the armed guard team aboard the ship to fire multiple warning shots on the attackers who were on two speed boats," Stolt Tankers said.

The ship's bridge sustained minor damage, but no crew members were injured, according to the company, a subsidiary of Norwegian listed Stolt-Nielsen.

Guards aboard the Stolt Apal fired multiple warning shots as the two boats approached, media reports said. Gunmen aboard the boats then opened fire on the vessel, and the guards returned fire and disabled one of the boats.

Dryad Global for Maritime Security said the incident is the ninth to be reported in the Gulf of Aden this year.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said a British-flagged ship had come under attack in the westbound transit corridor south-east of the Hadramaut provincial capital of al-Mukalla.

In a statement on its website, UKMTO said it has "advised all vessels transiting the area to exercise extreme caution".

Merchant ships have been attacked in recent years in the Gulf of Aden by armed gangs and groups such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Al-Jazeera reported Sunday.

The Arab coalition has previously accused Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) of trying to attack vessels off the coast of Yemen with unmanned boats laden with explosives, the news outlet said.

Naval threat in Gulf of Aden

An Arab coalition source meanwhile called on all parties to the Yemen conflict to attend to their responsibilities, because the naval threat in the Gulf of Aden is still there, al-Arabiya al-Hadath reported.

According to the source, the Southern Transitional Council (STC) has not responded to the Arab coalition's request to allow the Yemeni coast guards to resume their operations.

Yemen's Information Minister Muammar al-Eryani warned that the STC's declaration of "self-administration" will have serious consequences on the expansion of terrorist activities along Yemen's southern coast.

"The terrorist attack which targeted a ship off Yemen's southern coast shows that the terrorist activities which target international shipping lines in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea continue," he said.

Al-Eryani said he held the STC fully responsible for blocking the government's efforts to establish security and stability in Aden and along the southern coast, and for preventing the Yemeni coast guards from doing their job.

This includes protecting commercial vessels, thwarting terrorist activities and preventing the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis, he said.

Political analyst Abdulmalik al-Youssefi told Al-Mashareq that in his view, Sunday's pirate attack was aimed at sabotaging relations between the Arab coalition and its partners in the government and STC.

"We have to understand that the party benefiting from this attack is the axis of terrorism in the region led by Iran," he said.

"The perpetrators of this attack have exploited the tensions between the parties to the conflict in Yemen to destroy the relationship between the STC and Saudi Arabia and UAE," he said.

Implementing Riyadh Agreement

Saudi Arabia must pressure all parties to implement the Riyadh Agreement, in order to defuse the crisis among its allies in Yemen, political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.

Failure to fully implement this agreement "contributes to instability in Yemen and the region and threatens international shipping and trade", he said.

"If Yemen's coast guards are not allowed to do their job in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, the smuggling of Iranian weapons to the Houthis will increase via the coasts of liberated provinces," he said.

Ahmed called on the Arab coalition, Yemeni government and STC to work together to stop Iran's expansion in the region.

"The attack on the British vessel confirms that chaos and absence of state authority will leave the door wide open for terrorism and outlaws," political analyst Adel al-Shujaa told Al-Mashareq.

"This is the natural outcome of the absence of state authority; terrorism prospers in chaos as it exploits it well," he said.

"This is a message to the international community, that navigation will be in danger if the militias that have seized control of the state and that are defying the legitimate government are not challenged," he added.

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