Vessels plying the Red Sea route past Yemen have been advised to be on alert after a cargo vessel came under fire on Friday.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reporting body said the merchant ship was 38 nautical miles (70 km) south of the port of Hodeidah when the attack occurred.

One craft approached in the dark to within a nautical mile of the starboard side. The cargo vessel reported four or five bursts of automatic gunfire.

An armed security team on board returned fire and the skiff moved away.

The vessel and crew were reported safe.

Security company Ambrey said the ship’s name was being withheld but is a Liberia-flagged Greek-controlled bulker.

The vessel had an estimated freeboard of 7.2 metres and was making 13.4 knots at the time.

According to AIS signals, the bulker did not conduct evasive manoeuvres.

The vessel was sailing northbound, and had last called in Phu My, Vietnam, sailing via Singapore.

Its destination was not being broadcast at the time of the incident, with the AIS set to “Armed guard on board”.

Ambrey has since spoken to officers on board a vessel that passed through the same area an hour later. No approaches or suspicious sightings were reported.

The location was within five nautical miles of the northbound lane of the Traffic Separation Scheme, or TSS, east of the Hanish Islands.

“It is advised to use the Maritime Security Transit Corridor, including the TSS west of the Hanish Islands, and to enhance vigilance,” Ambrey said.

Another security company, Diaplous Group, said that despite the abolition of the Indian Ocean High Risk Area, piracy and maritime terrorism both constitute major threats to shipping industry that must be taken into serious consideration.

“Therefore, all vessels and seafarers operating in the region of Bab el-Mandeb Strait up to the Red Sea, are highly advised to remain extremely vigilant,” the company added.

Approaches should be reported

Diaplous said owners should report any suspicious approach and use armed guards in the area.

On 2 March, an LNG carrier and a bulker increased their speed after spotting two small craft and a larger vessel off Yemen.

The incident, classed by Ambrey as an “approach”, took place 340 nautical miles east of the island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea.

The Greek-flag gas ship reported the approach by two white-hulled boats that came to within 0.1 nautical miles, according to the UKMTO.

One of these crafts had five people on board, the other had six.

A larger blue-hulled vessel was also in the vicinity, and was reported to be supporting the smaller boats.

The LNG carrier appeared to respond by increasing speed from 15 knots to 17.8 knots before returning to an elevated cruising speed of 15.5 knots an hour later, Ambrey said.

A Marshall Islands-flag bulk carrier also appeared to react, adjusting course to port by 0.8 nautical miles and increasing speed out of the manoeuvre.