This month's security bulletin focuses on:
- Hong Kong
- North Korea
Ongoing issues Update:
Over the last few months I have regularly written about the same thing - notably Iran and to a lesser extent North Korea and Hong Kong. These are still quite obviously ongoing situations, so rather than rehash a lot of what I have previously written, I will provide a few lines on each.
Since last month and the seizure of various tankers by Iran, nothing much has changed. On 15 August the Supreme Court in Gibraltar ruled that the Grace 1 - a cargo ship containing Iranian oil that had been held since 4 July- is to be released. This was despite a last-minute appeal by the US to take possession of the vessel. Gibraltar received formal written assurance that the cargo was not bound for Syria – the reason given for the initial seizure. This may result in a slight lowering of tensions and possibly the risk of British vessels facing capture near Iran, although reports have recently emerged of the detention of two British-Australian women - the first time British passport holders that do not have Iranian citizenship have been held in the last few years. However, in general the situation will remain relatively the same with the larger concerns of the US set against Iranian feelings of persecution. As evidenced by the Houthi drone strike on Saudi Aramco facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais which resulted in a decline of 5% in world oil production. The US was quick to accuse Iran of being behind the strikes. Iran denies and has stated it is ready for all-out war.
Regionally, wider tensions are in play. Israel between 25 and 26 August struck targets in Syria and Lebanon, in what appears to be a pre-emptive strike against forces operating “killer drones”. Almost inevitably Lebanon responded on 1 September by firing anti-tank missiles at Israel Defence Force positions, leading to a further retaliatory strike by Israel.
Whilst the main actors in the region and international interests will be keen to avoid escalation, these incidents again highlight the tension in the area. The opportunity for mistakes or misunderstanding to lead to a deterioration remains high. Travellers to Israel should ensure they are aware of emergency protocols, know the location of the nearest shelters and obey all security force instructions. If travelling to Lebanon, avoid any locations associated with the government, military or militia forces.
Whilst the proposed extradition treaty between Hong Kong and China has been shelved, the protests have shown no signs of abating, even spreading to Hong Kong airport over 11 – 13 August, resulting in flights being cancelled and some violence, when suspected Chinese spies were discovered by protesters. The violence at the airport highlights the risks around large groups and the need to avoid any form of protest or demonstration whilst travelling as a standard precaution. The US State Department has issued a Level 2 (Exercise Increased Caution) for travel to the city. Further protests continued throughout August, with the police deploying several different responses in early September. Although Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, announced on 4 September that the extradition bill would be withdrawn in October, it was denounced as “too little, too late” and protests continue to occur. Travellers to the city should allow additional time for journeys and be prepared for cancellations. Having “stand fast/shelter in place” contingencies would be a sensible precaution in case flights are more severely affected. If flights are suspended it may be possible to travel to China to pick up a flight from Shenzen or another close city, however the correct visas will be needed.
There has been continuing discussion about how China could become more directly involved. At this point direct intervention is unlikely and if undertaken would likely make things worse (unless the response was absolutely crushing). The most likely response at this time from China is to use economic levers, directing investment to cities like Shenzen and Shanghai.
Since April 2018 North Korea had been observing a halt on missile tests, which had seen a dramatic thawing of tensions with the South and other countries such as Japan. This suddenly halted at the beginning of August when at least five missile tests were carried out in the space of a week. The North Korean regime does have a tendency to use these types of tactics to remind the world of its presence. At this stage it should not be taken to show any material change within the region.
We are entering the run up to the Rugby World Cup 2019 (RWC19), to be held in Japan. Whilst the rainy season peaks in June and July it does run until October and with tropical storm Krosa making landfall in Japan and the associated disruption - almost 700 flights cancelled and 400,000 people advised to evacuate - additionally Cyclone Faxai caused widespread disruption on 9 September when it made landfall at Chiba before moving onto Tokyo. Almost 1 million homes were left without power and flights and bullet trains were cancelled, stranding travellers and commuters. It is a worthy reminder to ensure that robust plans and procedures are in place. We are publishing a Japan travel guide in anticipation of RWC19 which will look at the issues travellers to Japan will face and some specifics for RWC19.
In other news
Nuclear fallout in Russia
Towards the beginning of August an explosion occurred in North West Russia near the city of Arkhangelsk. Radioactive material was released into the atmosphere. Believed to be connected to secret missile development by the Russian Government information has been severely restricted. International monitoring shows that radiation outside of the immediate area is negligible and that Arkhangelsk itself seems largely unaffected.
We are entering the end of hurricane season in the Caribbean, however as recent events show that is not a reason to relax. Hurricane Dorian strengthened to a category 5 storm as it moved across northern Bahamas devasting the North of the country. Our joint venture partner, Drum Cussac, has put together a very useful whitepaper on the risk of hurricanes which you can download here.