The purpose of this report is to provide a current assessment on the threats posed to merchant vessels transiting the Mediterranean in open waters. The risks to vessels when operating closer to the coast or within confined areas and port exit/entry is likely worse due to the opportunities it provides for an attacker. It is therefore recommended that the Company Security Officers pay special attention and advise their ships accordingly.


The SECURITY and TERRORISM threat towards merchant vessels in open waters in the MEDITERRANEAN is LOW.

NATO Shipping Centre would greatly appreciate reports and experiences from shipping in order to gain an understanding of all threats in the Mediterranean so that we can issue relevant advice for merchant shipping. All information received will be treated as confidential

The Western Mediterranean

It is well known that military forces along the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian coastline regularly patrol along their territorial waters (TTW) to ensure integrity and security is maintained. Nonetheless, it is difficult to monitor the entire coastline continuously, therefore a number of illegal activities continue to take place within the western Mediterranean.

Drug trafficking from the Moroccan coast to the south Spanish coast using small, modern high speed vessels is observed regularly. Law enforcement agencies in the region work to counter these activities. Other than a navigational consideration, these fast craft pose no direct threat to commercial traffic, with their main focus being the delivery of illegal cargo. Smugglers active along the route tend to be well organized previously active in smuggling drugs (primarily cannabis resin) across the straits. 


Main routes in the western Mediterranean used by migrants.

 Illegal migration routes from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are used predominantly by economic migrants to get into the European Union EU. The western Mediterranean migration corridor comprises two maritime routes and land route. The most popular maritime route involves embarkation points on the Strait of Gibraltar, usually between the Moroccan city of Tangier and Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Small fishing boats, along with inflatable dinghies, jet skis and other craft, are used to shuttle migrants across the straits to the Spanish coast. Despite the relatively short distance across the straits the route is still dangerous. The second maritime route starts on the coast of western Algeria, whence migrants aim to reach the Spanish provinces of Almeria and Murci, and less commonly, the Balearic Island. The most commonly reported embarkation point was Bou Hadjar. The usage of these routes by Violent Extremists is not confirmed, but cannot be excluded.

The SECURITY and TERRORISM threat towards merchant vessels in open waters in the Western MEDITERRANEAN remain LOW

The Central Mediterranean

The dynamic has changed considerably within the Central Mediterranean with regards to the ongoing internal conflict within Libya. The country's complex political and security situation has made it difficult to reach a political settlement between the UN officially recognized GNU and LNA.

All ports in western Libya are operational and largely secure, although in line with GNU Transport Ministry guidelines, vessels coming from countries affected by Covid-19 are meant to have spent at least 14 days in quarantine before being allowed to enter. The GNU is busy preparing a Libya Stabilisation Conference for the 21 October which will be attended by ministers and international participants, and aimed at finding a solution to the current impasse, as well as arranging the retreat of foreign forces from the country. Eastern Libya is fully under LNA control and is largely secure. Aside from Derna, which remains closed, the eastern ports are all operational. The situation at Derna port is unclear, but it appears that the port could resume operations some time soon. The Hariga terminal near Tobruq has resumed operations after the end of the students' sit in which prevented exports.

Although the protests in mid-September appear to have died down, there is still an elevated threat of disruption to export from terminals, particularly in the oil crescent and the east. There is a slightly lower, more diffuse threat of interruption of production from fields. Protests are likely to occur at a short notice, and may cause operations to be cancelled or interrupted after they've begun.

Shipping operations are not entirely free of risk, even though the threat levels have been relatively stable in recent months. Libyan parties may still be motivated to attack transiting vessels if they believe it advances their interests, or if their targets are associated to hostile political factions. Operators should consider that until vessels are indeed loaded and have left Libyan ports, no agreement is totally binding, and may be unilaterally breached by the other party. Libyan coastguard CG forces may fire at vessels if engaged in activity they deem illegal, such as fishing in Libyan waters (on May 2021 three fishing vessels were fired by warning shots from Libyan CG 30 NM of Misratah, due to unauthorized crossing into "no fishing zone", which is internationally disputed fisheries protection zone ranging approximately 65 NM from Libyan coastline. This zone was declared unilaterally in 2005, denying foreign vessels access to fishing without authorization).

Trading between Libyan ports, while possible, is still subject to a substantial threat of disruption by any number of interested parties.

Gulf of SIRTE TTW Claim: Since 1973, Libya claims TTWs in the area south of 32deg 30mins North

The NSZ was declared by the LNA in December 2015. The area is officially undefined in time and space; however some references indicate the area No Sail Zone stretches 10 nm into the waters along the coasts of Derna from approximately Ras al Teen to Susa, which was declared specifically to deter illegal weapon smuggling or other illegal goods to Libya.

There are occasional reports of commercial vessels being detained by LNA patrols along the north-eastern coast close to Derna. The seizures show that the LNA-forces consider the No Sail Zone as active. A number of arbitrary merchant vessel have been seized near the Cyrenaica coast. Vessels have been requested to divert to the coast in order to be inspected and finally detained. In order to be released a fine has to be paid to the LNA authorities. Some operators report even a US $100,000 'release fee' if seized by LNA units around Derna while sailing in a roughly-defined No Sail Zone. There is an elevated threat of being detained if sailing too close to the coast of Derna. Based on this information we issue the following advice to merchant vessels:

- stay well clear of the Libyan shore.
- proceed with extreme caution to any Libyan port and seek further information from Libyan authorities and shipping agents,
- if hailed when transiting of the Libyan shore, take caution if you are requested to divert for inspection.

EU NAVFOR MED OPERATION IRINI: The European Union has launched a military operation of the coast of Libya in order to enforce the UN Arms Embargo in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2292(2016) and Resolution 2578 (2021). In this perspective an increased amount of naval units can be expected of the coast of Libya. Aerial, naval and satellite assets have been deployed to contribute to stemming the flow of weapons into Libya. To accomplish their task, the military forces carry out procedures known as hailing's, friendly approaches and boarding's. For more information see their homepage

Finally, vessels transiting through the area should remain aware of the possibility of encountering migrant crafts, with potential safety-at-sea issues. It is recommended to have adequate planning in place for such scenarios. The local coast guard frequently intercepts north African migrants in territorial waters.


Main routes used by migrants in the Central Mediterranean


This route runs from Eastern Algeria to Sardinia, which is one the preferred routes for Algerians seeking to get to Europe. Key embarkation points are clustered  in the provinces of Annaba and El Terref, and include Sidi Achir, Ras El Hamra, Oued Boukrat, Sidi Salem and El Kala.

Since the summer of 2019 there have been frequent observations of loss and interference of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) on board vessels and aircraft operating in the area roughly bounded by MALTA – ZUWARAH (western Libya) and MISARATA. Merchant vessels are advised to pay special attention when operating in this area and report similar observations to NATO Shipping Centre.
The SECURITY and TERRORISM threat towards merchant vessels in open waters in the CENTRAL MEDITERRANEAN is LOW.
The Eastern Mediterranean

The Eastern Mediterranean is an extremely busy region and similar to the Central Mediterranean, it suffers from an ongoing regional conflict in Syria. A wide range of military units from various countries are also conducting operations. The benefit of this military presence is also a prudent visible deterrence against any terrorist or criminal related activity that could take place. While the threat from terrorist related attacks in open water to commercial shipping remains very low; however, risk increases when operating closer to coastal areas, raising the possibility of an opportunistic attack. While unlikely related to terrorism, in the Syrian Channel, it was observed an electromagnetic spectrum jamming and spoofing GNSS and AIS systems. Merchant vessels continue to regularly report observations of GNSS interference when in or near Port Said/Egypt, likewise when sailing in the Syrian channel and also west/northwest coast of the Lebanon. Merchant vessels are advised to pay special attention when operating in this area and report observations to NATO Shipping Centre. 

The SECURITY and TERRORISM threat towards merchant vessels in open waters in the EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN is LOW.


NSC recommends reporting incidents of GPS interference and jamming, cyber spoofing, software and electronic incidents and similar failures. By doing so, it will help us to understand how to handle and avoid such incidents in the future. To facilitate reporting and analysis, it is important to include critical information such as the location (latitude/longitude), date and time, duration of the outage/disruption, photographs or screen shots of equipment failures experienced when reporting incidents - electronic interference report.

Search our content:


NATO Shipping Centre
Northwood HQ, Atlantic Building
Sandy Lane, Northwood HA6 3HP
United Kingdom

NSC Contact

​Telephone ​+44 (0) 1923-956574
​Fax ​+44 (0) 1923-956575