By Richard Battrick MSc MPA CEng FIExpE, Battrick Consultancy Limited

The attacks on the USS Cole in 2000, MV Limburg in 2002 and Sri Lankan ship Invincible in 2008, including subsequent terrorist incidents in the maritime environment such as Al-Qaeda’s India Branch attempt to storm a Pakistan frigate in the Karachi port on the anniversary of 9/11, 2014 highlight the requirement to protect large, vulnerable sea going vessels at sea and in harbour against the risk of a high profile terrorist attack. In almost every incident, terrorist attacks will be carried out by utilising explosive devices such as conventional military weapons or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Notwithstanding the impact, both kinetically and psychologically, these devices may fail to detonate either through old age or poor construction or even because they have been discovered before having functioned. Once discovered, there may only be a small amount of time available to identify the device, safeguard personnel and render the device safe. If the device detonates, then it may cause significant damage that may result in the loss of the ship, potentially drawing out the impact of the event through international media and subsequently affecting the public’s confidence in port and maritime security, as we have seen with the aviation industry.

Al Qaeda's India Branch tried to attack US Aircraft Carrier and attacked a Pakistani frigate instead_ copyright REUTERS_ 600 pix

Al Qaeda’s India Branch tried to attack US Aircraft Carrier, thought to have been the USS George Washington. (Source: attack-mistakenly-trying-capture-Naval-ship-thought-American-aircraft-carrier.html)


Clearly, the effects of any such attack can be minimised through careful planning and awareness of the maritime environment. The nearshore and offshore region in and around coastal waters is undergoing varying phases of construction which includes energy infrastructure in support of the offshore renewable sector, oil and gas, communications, pipelines, cables and a plethora of subsea architecture which aligned with existing maritime infrastructure, such as harbours, ports, anchorages, commercial shipping and maritime military forces, creates increasing concern for governments and agencies charged with protecting any such assets, especially when it comes to understanding potential threats and the maritime environment.

Pakistan Frigate alongside_600 pix

Pakistan Frigate alongside. (Source:

Commercial shipping remains the principal means by which goods and raw materials are imported and exported globally and there is an increasing emphasis on the development of offshore wind energy infrastructure. This aligned with the need to protect hydrocarbon activity on the continental shelf, oil and gas fields in territorial waters and the provision of food security to national fish supplies, means that the maritime economy can be threatened by illicit activities such as trafficking in people, illegal narcotics, weapons and piracy; all of these activities may potentially supply varying IED systems. The US RAND Centre for Terrorism Risk Management Policy (CTRMP) in 2006 produced an analytical approach for addressing maritime terrorism, risk and liability identifying that IEDs combined with stand-off attacks, still presented the greatest combination of threat to commercial shipping and delivery of economic harm.


Maritime Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Having established that the greatest threat from terrorist attack consists of IEDs and stand-off attack, the most capable and prevalent weapon used by pirates is the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG).

When considering the placement of IED charges, any such device can be placed either externally on the ship’s side and/or hull, or placed internally by infiltrators so that a combination of onboard bombings and specific assaults, such as the ramming attack experienced by USS Cole, can be coordinated. Strategic placement of IEDs can be achieved by the following means:

  • infiltrators and onboard placed devices;
  • surface swimmers;
  • underwater swimmers/divers;
  • small submersibles;
  • suicide bombers (upper deck and/or between decks);
  • suicide divers.

Linked charges or multiple underwater charges, may also incorporate anti-tampering and lifting sensors that will cause a sympathetic detonation to other explosive devices in close proximity. In any event, high risk underwater searches will need to be initiated whilst personnel are being evacuated and the ship’s team must prepare for diving operations on the ship’s hull, ensuring timely isolation of the ship’s systems in the eventuality that a high risk underwater search is to be undertaken. Any such search both internal or external to the vessel needs to be carefully and rapidly planned with sites and areas searched in priority order, such as vulnerable and essential machinery services.

The following points for underwater searches will need consideration:

  • large spaces below the waterline (marking machinery spaces or storerooms);
  • propulsion systems and propellers;
  • type of seabed and seabed search;
  • action in the event of finding and marking the position of a device;
  • diving assistance (sea boat, diving set charging facilities etc.);
  • imagery requirements for identification and data capture.

Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). When being attacked by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), either at sea or alongside, vessels are susceptible to attack within a maximum engagement range of 2000 meters. If the variables such as sea state, weather, competence of the shooter and the stability of the platform that the perpetrators are using is taken into consideration, then the effective range of the weapon may be considerably reduced, thus reducing the threat. However, if a ‘blind’ round is encountered (a round that has been successfully fired, but failed to function as intended), it still constitutes an explosive risk. The plasma jet from the rear of the RPG round that might suddenly function may affect the ship’s secondary hazards, such as the proximity of the ship’s ancillary systems, machinery, fuel or gas pipelines and other vital fittings, including adjacent buildings when alongside and ships, which must also be carefully considered during evaluation and risk assessment of the possible explosive effects of an attack. In any event, knowledge of the ship, its structures and other hazards onboard is vital when conducting risk analysis and implementing risk mitigation procedures when countering potential attack.


Manpower. Developing the Maritime C-IED capability in the NATO community remains a priority. The maritime military Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) contingency for force protection continues to evolve, but essentially relies on a reactive clearance diving capability using equipment and technology that supports IED-D low order techniques to defeat the device. The key to the timely activation of any such capability relies upon the quality of the information that can be garnered from the maritime intelligence community in support of the intelligence cycle that helps re-assess and improve maritime tactics, techniques and procedures. For the military, it is the responsibility of the warships and various maritime units to consult relevant national authorities and assess the level of threat at sea, anchor or alongside ahead of any planned port visit. If significant risk is deemed to exist, then mobile clearance diving EOD units may be embarked to enhance the ship’s defensive capability and these units will be capable of dealing with any emerging EOD and IED-D response.

Maritime and Land support to C-IED Operations – A ‘joint’ approach. In the first instance when considering a ‘joint’ approach to C-IED operations, the use of a clearance diving unit/maritime capability with EOD and IED-D know-how, would deliver equipment, logistics and a maturing maritime EOD and IED-D force protection capability which essentially delivers a rapid response, understands terrorist tactics, techniques and procedures and provides information from the maritime network, which includes indications of current activity from naval forces that provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. In the second instance, maritime forensic expertise within the clearance diving unit may be improved by incorporating a Weapons Intelligence Team (WIT). The maritime WIT could be deployed operationally for site exploitation after the site has been deemed free from explosive hazard and deliver the maritime force protection unit tactical and technical assessment or technical intelligence when gathering scientific or forensic evidence.

VideoRay RoV with Cobra shaped charge_300 pix

VideoRay RoV with Cobra shaped charge. (Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd and VideoRay LLC)

Equipment. For disposal and intervention, conventional EOD and IED-D stores are utilised by divers of the clearance diving unit, such as disrupters for limpet mine disposal or Vulcan for neutralisation, including the mechanical removal of devices with hook and line techniques or a combination of these underwater techniques. Forensic management remains a weakness, with current directives being articulated as ‘appropriate’ to gather evidence, but not at the expense of risk to life. One of the better underwater mechanisms to conduct remote underwater survey and inspection, either pre or post-blast, is the use of man-portable Remote Operated Vehicle (RoV) with underwater digital camera equipment. This can be used to take still pictures and videos for data collection purposes and may also incorporate a charge placement unit, to be remotely initiated once the RoV has been recovered from the water. The RoV can also be fitted with cutters and manipulating arms.

Underwater IED-D using Vulcan_600 pix

Underwater IED-D using Vulcan.

Training. The NATO C-IED community of interest is looking more closely, investigating maritime IEDs and reviewing the joint protection of harbours. Because of the complexity of the maritime environment and network, collaboration and planning between NATO stakeholders, civilian and law enforcement agencies has been identified as a priority in order to fully understand the challenges and issues concerning IED and maritime protection. Understanding that interoperability is the key to promoting IED awareness in the maritime environment, Joint Service training exercises allow units to participate in Joint Manoeuvres for the development of specific-to-role training requirements. Exercise Northern Challenge was completed in Keflavik, Iceland in 2014. The exercise focused on disabling IEDs in support of counter-terrorism tactics, techniques and procedures to help prepare Partnership for Peace (PfP), NATO and Nordic nations for future force protection and diving activities in harbours and confined waterways where current warning systems, risk levels and technical high risk underwater search procedures are rigorously tested and re-enforced. For commercial delivery of tactics, techniques and procedural training in the maritime environment, the selection of a specialist training provider is key. Any such selection needs to be commensurate with the needs of the organisation, whether developing national technical procedures to defeat the device or raise organisational awareness. In any event, familiarity with equipment fit and implementation is essential, including relevant international government approval for EOD and IED-D qualified personnel, essential for ex-military operatives, to deliver training that requires endorsement from the relevant national authority.

Embracing the maritime stakeholder network and developing an awareness of maritime activity and operations is essential to interpret information required to promote understanding of the maritime IED system. Development in the maritime environment poses increased vulnerability and in particular, the risk of maritime terrorist attack from IEDs combined with stand-off attacks, still present the greatest combination of threat to commercial shipping which can deliver economic harm to the maritime community. In order to counter that threat, military organisations must continue to improve interoperability and develop the ‘joint’ approach to tactics, techniques and procedures. Underwater equipment technology needs to continue to develop the delivery of disruption and destruction techniques through remotely placed charge mechanisms. Forensic awareness and data collection methodology remains a weakness as scientific and forensic analysis may be corrupted, underwater and licensed operators also need to improve an embryonic RoV operator skill-set. For civilian personnel employed or engaged in any capacity on ships, in ports or on any other vessel, then developing a proficiency in security awareness will help enhance maritime security through improved understanding, recognition of potential security threats and the need for developing methodology in maintaining security awareness and vigilance. In sum, the vulnerability of vessels and developing infrastructure in the maritime environment is affected in the main by the design, limitations and operation of either the vessel, offshore/nearshore development or the harbour underwater security infrastructure designed to deter and detect maritime attacks, the success of which depends on the organisations’ ability to disseminate information, implement decision making processes and counter the threat effectively. ■


RAND, Maritime Terrorism Risk and Liability, October 2006.

AJP-3.15(B), Allied Joint Doctrine for Countering IEDs.

2nd Counter- IED Technology Workshop, June 2015.

0BR 1806, British Maritime Doctrine.

NATO, Allied Command Transition web-site. See:


Richard Battrick 100 pixRichard Battrick is a former Royal Navy Mine Warfare Clearance Diving Officer with a 22-year career engaged as UK Royal Navy officer, Principal Warfare Officer (PWO), Air Defender (AWO) and Joint Service Instructor, culminating in Command of the RN’s Southern Diving Group. Commercial experience has been gained as a Director of a leading maritime security company overseeing counter-piracy operations in the Middle East and more recently from running an independent Consultancy engaged in ordnance management, maritime security and defence activities, in support of approved codes of practice, industry standards and safe systems of work. Richard is a board member of the UK explosive sector Standards Setting Body for Explosives, Munitions and Search Occupations (SSB for EMSO), an industry advisor to the UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Explosive Weapons and a member of the GICHD expert focus group for the new underwater International Mine Action Standard (IMAS).