Circumnavigating the World by Yacht is a Complex Issue0
This is the time of year for yachts of all nations to gather at the Rock of Gibraltar to make the Atlantic Crossing over to the Caribbean via the Canary Islands. Some yachts sail around the Atlantic coast to either Portugal or the Moroccan ports while others leave directly from Gibraltar. September is too early to arrive in the Caribbean as it is still in the middle of the hurricane season but they are itching to start their journey and with the large number of marinas in the various Canary Islands along with an assortment of good anchorages there is no better place to while away a few weeks waiting for a weather window to cross over to the romantic Caribbean.
Some of these yachtsmen and women will complete their journey under the watchful eye of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers and spend months or even years basing their yachts in marinas or anchorages scattered through the island group flourishing in the clear, rich waters of the Caribbean while others will spend the season there then sail back to Europe via Bermuda and the Azores. However, it is those whose dreams are to complete the full global circle that will be making nail biting decisions as to what they should do next.
Recent reports from experts on circumnavigating and piracy are now stressing that the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and even parts of the Red Sea have turned into no go areas. Pirate attacks on yachts alone are now approaching disturbing proportions with a 1 in 20 chance of experiencing an attack in the danger zones. The pirates have no inhibitions and don’t discriminate on size of yacht or its seeming wealth value. The valuable cargo has become the crew themselves, with hefty ransoms being demanded for their release. It is often many months before incarcerated crew is released after much haggling over ransom demands.
More alarming is that in the 2010 -2011 year, five yachts people have been killed in the Indian Ocean and a further ten have been kidnapped. This has amounted to five attacks on yachts, with four of them being successful.
However, commercial shipping has benefitted hugely by the presence of a fleet of coalition warships that have been operating a safe corridor between the Omani port of Salalah and the Bab El Mandeb (Gates of Sorrow), the entry to the Red Sea, and which appears to have significantly halted large scale piracy for the time being, in that area. Pirates are more elusive than that and have spread their wings to extensive parts of the Indian Ocean. They are roaming around areas that are too massive to successfully police and which leave commercial ships and yacht crews vulnerable.
Coupled with the problems of piracy there are other hurdles to consider in the Middle East. Political instability in Yemen, Sudan and Egypt has made transiting the coasts of those countries increasingly unpredictable and in the period between January and May 2011 there was great relief by yacht crews when they finally arrived safely in Port Said on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt.
Joining or organising a military style convoy of other yachts has been the recent way to deal with the uncertainty of piracy but this is now not a guarantee of safety and the coalition warships have set no priority on shadowing and protecting such convoys.
Sailing on the oceans of the world can be exhilarating, awe inspiring and challenging and, if well prepared, quite doable, but protecting oneself from a pirate attack is something different altogether.
Tags: ARC, Canary Islands, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Ocean Sailing, Piracy, pirates, Red Sea, Transatlantic