Yemen coastal risk remains high [Archives:2005/841/Local News]

May 12 2005

(Reuters): There have been improvements to Yemen's Aden and Hodeidah ports, but Mukalla is less protected, the risk of maritime attacks remains significant. Since the October 2002 suicide attack on the oil tanker Limburg, the Yemeni government has made significant improvements to maritime security through two channels.

Firstly, a series of arrests and convictions has degraded the capabilities of Yemeni terrorist groups, including those responsible for the USS Cole and Limburg bombings, the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army.

Nonetheless, Islamic militants remain active and pose a substantial, if reduced, threat to western interests. The primary threat from militants is of suicide bombings using small craft against shipping in port or coastal waters.

Secondly, the Yemeni government has instituted maritime security measures. All Yemeni ports comply with the International Maritime Organization's International Ship and Port Security Code.

And, in 2003 the government established a coast guard service with US technical and material support.

The service now comprises 1,200 men, 40 craft and six bases, and has an annual budget of $11m.

However, this is spread over 1,100 nautical miles of coastline. Hodeidah and Aden are prioritized and are district coast guard bases, whereas the coast guard base at Mukalla is not yet completed and the port is less well protected.

Consequently, the risk of terrorist attack in waters around Mukalla is higher than at the other two ports.

However, despite these security measures, the risk of terrorist attack in the immediate vicinity of Aden or Hodeidah ports is still moderate to high, and Aden has not regained the status of a US Navy refuelling port, lost after the Cole attack.

Indeed, the ability of any coast guard to ensure that determined small craft cannot approach major vessels is limited, particularly outside of the immediate port area, but the coast guard will nevertheless be able to deter some hostile boats with the threat of deadly force.

Waters outside the immediate vicinity of Aden and Hodeidah have little protection, and, far from the mainland, Yemen's coast guard faces the difficult job of patrolling territorial waters.

Though risks remain substantial, development of the Yemeni Coast Guard will deliver further incremental improvements, with the priority given to Aden and Hodeidah likely to continue.

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