The intentional downplaying of terrorist activity in and around the Suez Canal by local authorities in the past six weeks can now be shown by GulfShip News as tensions around the area ratchet up. The attack on the Cosco Asia eight days ago, initially denied by the Suez Canal Authority, was in fact the second attack on a ship in the key waterway by Jihadist group al Furqan. The same group targeted a ship at night time on July 29 and uploaded a video of the attack on August 4. The Suez Canal Authority at the time denied the attack.

Mohab Mamish, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said on a local TV show last night that the military had significantly bolstered its presence along the waterway in the wake of the Cosco Asia attack.

Tension in the Suez region is soaring. Egyptian military engineers defused yesterday mortar rounds designed to create more transport chaos. Two mortar rounds and a rocket-propelled grenade attached to a fuse appeared to have been intended for a 6:00 am train.

The military is facing an insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, and yesterday saw a number of air strikes to try and take out the militants.

Egypt also closed its border crossing with Gaza on Saturday citing “security grounds”. The crossing will be closed until further notice.

Insurance firms have yet to make the canal a high risk area, saying that a lone strike does not make immediately put a region on the danger list. However, evidence of the second strike on July 29, and al Furqan’s subsequent letter promising further more severe action against ships crossing the canal, is likely to make insurance companies think twice.

Ships being targeted along the Suez are in fact nothing new. In July 2009, for instance, 26 people with suspected links to al Qaeda were arrested for plotting to attack ships on the canal. Similarly, in April 2010 another 26 people, this time from a Hezbollah cell, were imprisoned for hatching plans to attack vessels on the waterway.

American security firm Nexus Consulting has advised all ships transiting the canal to minimise shoreside interactions and to ensure the canal pilot team and riding gang are confirmed and identified prior to boarding. The security firm also strongly recommends that pilot ladders be utilized only on the western side of the vessel (northbound rig on port side, southbound rig on starboard side). Crew are advised to stay off deck unless necessary, use ballistic film for windows if available and wear protective clothing when on bridgewings.

Source : GulfShipNews