By Robert Norton

Stratfor, an Austin-based publisher and global intelligence company, reports a new wave of maritime threats in the waters between Yemen and the Horn of Africa. After three years of relative calm, at least seven security incidents were reported in October in the strait known as Bab el-Mandeb, a strategic maritime waterway linking the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Ships pass from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea, passing by Yemen on one side and Djibouti and Eritrea on the other. From the Red Sea, they pass through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean.

Piracy has long been a threat in the unstable region. If the maritime security threat around the Bab el-Mandeb strait shifts from financially motivated piracy attacks to ideologically motivated militant attacks, shipping companies will need to rethink their security measures, notes Hellenic Shipping News, which reports on international shipping. Because the route is so important to international trade, disruption could conceivably affect supply of some key ingredients to American food companies. In fact, an estimated 7 percent of international maritime traffic goes through the waterway each year, reports Andalou Agency, a Turkish news bureau.

The straits are also a strategic chokepoint for oil shipments from the Middle East and Central Asia. In 2014, more than 4.7 million barrels of oil were shipped through the strategic sea passage, the Turkish agency’s article reported. The article went on to quote an economics professor saying that closure of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait would block oil shipments coming from the Gulf to the Suez Canal and would force ships to travel an extra 6,000 miles—around the Cape of Good Hope—to arrive in Europe from the Gulf region, effectively doubling transportation costs.

Stratfor said two of the attacks, one on an Emirati ship and the other on the USS Mason, a U.S. Navy destroyer, were confirmed to have been carried out by Yemeni militants with land-based anti-ship missiles. Two others, both on Oct. 22, were likely carried out by Somali pirates. Most concerning was an attempted attack on the Galicia Spirit, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker, involving a skiff loaded with explosives. The skiff exploded prematurely, leaving the tanker unharmed, but the tactic harkens back al Qaeda attacks against USS Cole in 2000 and the MV Limburg in 2002. Finally, on Oct. 26, the oil tanker Melati Satu was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). READ MORE