Tactical Defense Concepts Reports on Recent Maritime Bomb Incidents

Tactical Defense Concepts (TDC) recently reported on a series of bomb-related incidents and suspicious events involving the maritime industry. These events highlight the need for continuous awareness, training and drills on the part of vessel, port and company security officers. While these incidents may be unrelated and perhaps coincidental, TDC analysis of past Al Qaeda methods and tactics especially relating to attempted attacks on the airline industry should cause mariners, ship operators and terminal personnel to review procedures in case of a bombing incident and / or threat on board vessels. Recent events include:

•April 2006: An unexplained explosion on US Flag container ship departing Salalah, Oman. The Bosun reportedly found a box on deck, threw it overboard and it exploded when it hit the water.

•April 2006: An unexplained explosion ripped apart a container ship while off the coast of Yemen. The best information available to TDC was that “the cause of the explosion was undetermined.” However, unless the cause can be sufficiently explained, TDC advises that sabotage cannot be ruled out.

•June 2006: A US Flag container ship arriving to the United States from the Mideast reported a suspicious package that was removed by authorities. According to the TDC source, the Master quoted the authorities as saying that the package "may have been a hoax". No further information was available.

•June 2006: At Port Hueneme, CA, the port was shut down following discovery of a threatening message scrawled on board a vessel arriving from Guatemala.

•August 2006: The Port of Seattle shut down in order to inspect a suspicious container arriving from Pakistan. No device was found.

TDC Analysis of the string of incidents suggests that Awareness is key. The Coast Guard, to borrow a key phrase from former Commandant ADM James Loy, calls it “Domain Awareness.” There is now, sufficient justification to review hazardous devices identification, search and response procedures with watchstanders, crew and security personnel that is required by ISPS / MTSA regulations and should be included in security plans. Measures to search belongings, stores and supplies should be rigidly enforced, especially in the Mideast. If a suspicious device is discovered, the on board policy should be: "DO NOT TOUCH IT." Set up a security and fire zone around it and call for assistance. TDC’s Joseph Tenaglia also says, “There is an excellent chapter on maritime bomb response procedures in our textbook, "The Vessel Security Officer," published by the Cornell Maritime Press.

Note: CDR Joseph Tenaglia USN (Ret) is a former Special Operations Officer with a specialty in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (bomb disposal). His firm, TDC, conducts maritime security training, security assessments of ships and marine terminals and other related consulting tasks.