02 October 2006

Things That Make You Go 'Hmmmm...': US Flag Vessel Forced to Take Evasive Action

(Didn't see this one get much play in the open press...)

US Flag Vessel Forced to Take Evasive Action to Avoid Ramming

Tactical Defense Concepts (TDC), a maritime security training and consulting firm, recently received word of a possible terrorist act from a licensed mariner assigned to a US Flag vessel carrying US military cargo. The officer described in detail a possible ramming attempt on September 5 2006 by a foreign flag bulk cargo ship, said to be approximately 600 feet in length. The incident occurred in the vicinity of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The American vessel was proceeding eastward at about 15 knots and had just cleared the inbound lane after exiting the Strait of Gibraltar. A large bulk carrier was following the US vessel and increased speed to overtake the US vessel on the port side. After passing the US vessel, the bulk carrier suddenly turned to starboard crossing the US vessel's bow. The US vessel turned quickly to starboard to avoid. The other vessel then turned directly at the US vessel and was closing fast. The American ship then increased to a maximum speed estimated to be 21 to 22 knots and presented a stern aspect to the foreign vessel, thereby narrowly avoiding a collision.
There were no whistle signals or radio contact from the foreign vessel. It was also reported that the foreign vessel continued to shadow the US vessel for approximately two days afterward. The incident was reported to the proper authorities at the time. TDC analysts say that the incident was quite suspicious and that it raised the possibility that it was an attempt to collide with a US Flag ship. The licensed officer could provide no rational explanation for the foreign vessel's maneuvers. It appeared to be deliberate in nature and only evasive action prevented a collision.
TDC also asserts that it is common knowledge to Company Security Officers (CSO) and Vessel Security Officers (VSO) that Al Qaeda has issued threats targeting US and NATO ships transiting the Strait. It has been widely reported here that several years ago, a plot was thwarted by US and Moroccan authorities to ram a US ship with a Vessel Born IED.
TDC concedes that they cannot confirm that this was a thwarted attack, but the circumstances are very suspicious. Ships should be cautious of close-in contacts, especially in chokepoints, but also in the open sea. This is the third report of close encounters received by TDC consultants from US flag vessels. Joseph Tenaglia, founder of TDC, reminds all mariners and ship operators that, “A good watch and preparedness to take evasive maneuvers is paramount if another vessel acts suspiciously and in close quarters.”