Will ISIS Take to the Med?

6 March 2015 By Hillary Hoffower

In a recent article by London’s The SundayTimes, retired BritishNaval Officer, Rear Admiral Rick Parry, expressed his fears that luxury yachts inthe Mediterranean could come under attack from ISIS fighters using speedboatsoff the Libyan coast.

“Yachting, anyleisure activity, is going to be under threat,” he said in the article. “If Iwere the likes of the super-rich, I would be getting a bit concerned about myphysical security.”

His concernswere echoed by Admiral Jim Stavridis, who believes Italy to be “extremelyhigh” risk.According to the Sunday Times article,because they’re better armed, ISIS would pose a more dangerous threat thanSomali pirates.

So how concernedshould yacht crew be in light of this warning and the potential risk in theMed? Vice Admiral Brian Peterman (USCG ret.), CEO of Command at Sea International, weighs in on thereality of this threat on both his blog and in conversation with Dockwalk.

Is ISIS a threat to crew?

Petermananalyzes the risk potential the way a prosecutor analyzes a potential case —means, motive and opportunity. Unfortunately, the situation checks off allthree, he believes.

According toPeterman, there are fishermen in the region sympathetic to ISIS who couldprovide transportation to combatants. This, coupled with ISIS’s proven strengthwith weapons, training and command structure to carry out coordinated militaryattacks, especially against soft targets, indicates that they have the means for attacking a yacht in theMediterranean.

He alsoasserts they have a motive due to theirsophisticated media presence to enlist new members and gain financial support.

“An importantpart of their potential recruit audience are disaffected Islamic youth who havehad brushes with the law and feel isolated by economic systems that provide themno opportunity,” he writes. “A key IS tactic in the theater of terrorism is toshow extreme brutality against those who represent the establishment…. Hijackinga yacht and brutally killing the passengers and crew fit well with the messagethey are trying to send to their potential supporters.”

With thousandsof yachts cruising the Mediterranean, most minimally protected without a properdefense, there is also plenty of opportunityfor ISIS to act on attack, says Peterman.

Although ISISdemonstrates all three factors, Peterman maintains that intent must also beconsidered. “…We must ask: Do they really intend to mount such an attack?” he wonders.“This is a tough question because it requires reliable intelligence such ascommunications intercepts and human reporting to learn if IS actually talksabout mounting a yacht attack.”

Peterman does point out that the Marshall Islands YachtRegistry has issued a security advisory regarding the threat, so it should betaken seriously.

Where is the threat?

We know ISISis in Libya from the beheading video of the Egyptian Christians on a Libyanbeach, making the threat higher in that area, says Peterson in an exclusive emailto Dockwalk.

“There is anongoing migrant smuggling operation from north Africa, including Libya, intoItaly and the Ionian Sea area,” he writes. “These smuggling routes couldbe leveraged by IS to conduct terrorist attacks. With this capability, Iwould assess the highest risk areas are in the central Mediterranean from theStraits of Malta over to Crete.”

The easternMed, including Turkey, is also a concern, maintains Peterman, where there is apotential threat from ISIS operating in Syria. Fishing vessels and possiblycommandeered fast boats could range across the Mediterranean from Libya.

Theprobability of an attack decreases with distance from known IS operating areas,Peterman adds, but we can’t be certain where they’re operating. The good newsis that he hasn’t heard of any insurance companies designating the threatenedarea as a High Risk Area.

If your yachtis ISPS compliant (commercial >500GT), they may receive security informationfrom their flag state such as that issued by the Marshall Islands, saysPeterman.

“I can’t saythat all flag states take this responsibility seriously,” he admits. “Flagstates can also raise the Maritime Security Level for their registered vessels,requiring them to increase their security procedures in accordance with a flagstate approved vessel security plan. For non-ISPS compliant vessels, they arebasically on their own.”

How should crew approach the potentialthreat?

In his blog,Peterman offers several options for crew who will be in the Med for the season.The first is to do nothing andcontinue sailing as if there is no threat, which is what Peterman believes mostwill do until there is an ISIS hijacking incident.

The second is to think like fish, who swimin schools to lessen their chances of being eaten by a predator. “They hope apredator will fill up on their buddies and go away before they are eaten,” saysPeterman. “Yachtsmen can use the same tactic, going only where there are largeconcentrations of yachts and hope they are not picked out of the many for an attack.”

As a third option, yachts can also merelyavoid areas that can be reached by fishing vessels from eastern north Africaand the Levant, where ISIS currently has the only means to mount an attack.

The fourth and final option is defense —making your yacht a hard target. “Components of good defense are to maintainvigilance of your surroundings in order to identify threats early, installingand using a robust security system, using safe rooms to protect againstkidnapping and killing and using qualified armed security guards,” Petermanadvises.

“It isunfortunate that we must think of yachting pleasures being marred by therealities of armed conflict, but [it] is clear that we must,” he concludes.“The potential threat from IS is real but the probability [of] an actual yachtattack is unknown. The prudent Mediterranean [yachtsman] will keep a close eyeon the unraveling situation and take prudent action to avoid sailing intoharm’s way.”

Read more fromBrian Peterman at Command At Sea:

For moreinformation regarding ISIS threats at sea, check out these articles: