International naval forces have demarcated a corridor in the Gulf of Aden and Bab el Mandab that warships will police to protect merchant and cruise shipping from high speed boats laden with explosives, a spillover from the conflict in Yemen, and pirates.
The Combined Maritime Forces is a taskforce comprised of ships from 32 navies, which will focus surveillance operations along a newly announced Maritime Security Transit Corridor for vessels passing through the strategic southern Red Sea route.
The route is the only waterway leading to the Suez Canal, which connects the Indian Ocean with Mediterranean Sea. It is the world’s most strategic maritime channel, providing passage for container ships laden with goods, as well as the world’s major cruise lines, which frequently reposition cruise liners between the European and Chinese markets.
The move is an attempt to protect the vital shipping that passes through the Suez Canal following recent attempted strikes on ships, but will have the added benefit of reassuring cruise lines that their vessels and passengers are safe in the Red Sea.
CMF Commander Vice Admiral Kevin Donegan outlined the dangers from piracy and attacks by small boats with small arms, explosives and rocket propelled grenades during a Combined Maritime Forces Commander’s conference in Bahrain this month.
While strikes from high speed boats were not successful and the identity of the attackers was unclear, the attacks demonstrated the risk of passage through these waters, he said.
Except those cruise ships on World Cruises via South Africa, the Middle East cruise market relies entirely on repositioning traffic from the Mediterranean, while those cruise ships homeporting in the Middle East during the winter cruise season do so after spending the summer in the Mediterranean and European cruise markets.
“The CMF seeks to encourage the merchant community to operate in a specific area so that CMF can focus our assets on that area, versus spreading them over a much wider area,” said Lt Cmdr Mark Vickers, deputy public affairs officer of the Combined Maritime Forces. “This provides mutual benefit to both the merchant community and naval forces.”
Military assets would be deployed to ensure “they are able to deliver the greatest effect against the threat to freedom of navigation,” he said, but declined to specify the number of naval vessels that would provide protection.