The Galicia Spirit is a relatively new liquefied natural gas carrier, built in 2004. Super LNG tankers like the Galicia Spirit are big (it’s 280 meters long), fat, slow and minimally maneuverable targets. On Tuesday, armed men on a fast small craft attacked the ship as it passed through the choke point of the Bab el Mandeb.
According to gcaptain.com:
Shipping group Teekay said its LNG (liquefied natural gas) tanker Galicia Spirit “experienced a suspected piracy attack whilst off the coast of Yemen” on Oct. 25.
The British maritime security firm MAST wasn’t sure as to the motivation of the attack.
“MAST understands that the vessel had no armed security team on board, and that the vessel sustained small arms fire as well as the RPG,” it said. “It is unclear whether this is a terrorist attack or piracy.”
This is a heavily trafficked and increasingly dangerous sea lane.
The UK Maritime Component Command, responsible for Royal Navy activity in the Middle East, said in a statement on Wednesday “details are still emerging as to the exact nature of the incident event and investigations are still on-going”.
While shipping companies have yet to divert ships, the stakes are high given nearly four million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia via the Bab al-Mandab as well as other commercial goods.
Yemen’s civil war continues to escalate, pitting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, backed by troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, against the internationally recognised government of Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, backed by Saudi Arabia.
Fortunately, the RPG hit the unarmed ship’s poop deck. It’s not clear if the RPG “missed” the hull or, if it had hit, whether it could have ignited the cargo. The gas is carried inside of pressurized containers that have some space separation from the hull.
A hundred years ago, the British would have been astonished if anyone suggested that weapons couldn’t or shouldn’t be carried on private ships. A few years earlier, an American had made the first solo circumnavigation of the globe. He carried a rifle with him to fend off pirates.
More recently, increased armed security at sea has all but put an end to problem of Somali pirates. The Galicia Spirit attack may signal a change in venue and tactics, as a UK security broker points out [via splash247]:
“The use of RPGs in an attack against a vessel in this shipping choke point is very worrying,” UK security broker ASKET said in a note today, adding: “Crews are advised to maintain a good lookout by radar and enhanced watchkeepers, crew should take cover in pre-designated areas away from the side of any threat if possible and be prepared to fight any fires caused by an exploding warhead.”
Or they could put to sea with armed security on-board. Better yet, the signatories to the Law of the Sea treaty should change the law to restore the right of ships’ officers to keep and bear defensive arms. Why not?
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.