Good news on the piracy epidemic in the Indian Ocean has come too late for some sailors, eager to get home after years cruising the world’s oceans. European yachts in particular have been stranded in South East Asia as the year on year prospect of running the Somali pirate gauntlet down the Gulf of Aden has been a very unattractive prospect. The alternative – to sail right around the Cape of Storms – at the bottom of South Africa, and then along trek over to Brazil through the Caribbean and back via the Azores seemed equally uninviting.
Barbary Pirates Attacking a Spanish Ship
Willem Van De II Velde
For the wealthier, there has been the option of putting their yacht on to a giant yacht transport ship in Thailand which carries the yachts on board in relative safety all the way through to Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, minus anything upward of thirty thousand euros for the priviledge.
The International Maritime Bureau has reported that the piracy problem off the east African coast and the Horn Of Africa has eased this years with fewer hijackings and fewer seamen being taken as hostage. The IMB has its own Piracy Monitoring Centre which keeps a track on any pirate attempts anywhere in the world.
The Somali piracy issue has become of very serious significance to shipping passing through from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea or vice versa over the last few years as the ever present pirate attacks became more numerous. The reduction in piracy has been credited to coordinated action by naval forces from several nations, especially the EU, USA, Australia and Malaysia. Some merchant shipping companies have resorted to spending many millions of dollars on hiring private armed security escorts to protect them as they transit the most dangerous area.
The IMB has, however, reported that while the situation off the East Coast of Africa has eased, the opposite has happened in the Gulf of Guinea. The number of ships attacked and hijacked off the coasts of Togo, Nigeria and Guinea has gone up as also has the number of similar incidents in Indonesia.
The number of ships hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean was down to 13 this year, and the number of incidents reduced from 163 to 69. The Somali pirate gangs are still holding 11 ships with 218 hostages in isolated and remote communities on the Somali coast.
Piracy itself includes both actual hijackings as well as armed robberies and hold ups. For most ordinary seafarers the prospect of one’s ship or yacht being hijacked and one’s life put up for ransom is a far worse prospect than an armed robbery. There were only 25 actual hijackings last year, but many more armed robberies involving attacks by armed gunmen boarding substantial sized ships. Most commercial ships these days have only very few crew on board and they are certainly not normally trained to defend the ship against an armed attack.
The IMB says that the Indian Ocean piracy threat, although less than in previous years, was still very serious and would require coordinated action by naval warships for years to come. Part of the problem is that the area in which the pirates have been operating is vast, stretching from inside the Red Sea to the coasts of Yemen and Oman to India, the Maldives, the Seychelles through to the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania. The pirates had become faster and more effective as they had accumulated millions of dollars paid out in ransom demands and the marine electronics and technology they had looted off the ships they had attacked.
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.
Barely a year ago teenager Laura Dekker departed from Gibraltar amidst controversy, as to whether at the young age of fourteen she could safely circumnavigate the dangerous oceans of the globe unaided and with the necessary skills that often include snap decision making, heavy physical work and the ability to accurately read and operate a multitude of electronic devices that are the key to safely navigate ocean waters these days. As well as the special skills required to conquer loneliness and growing up where there are no parents to guide her through her dream.
Against all odds she has now safely arrived in Darwin, after navigating through the reef strewn waters of the Torres Strait. Two oceans crossed and with some equipment to replace, she is now going to be residing in Darwin for a period while she prepares for the challenges of the Indian Ocean.
The controversy started for this young Dutch teenager, who was determined to be the youngest female solo sailor to sail around the world, when the Dutch government tried to remove her from her parents in a bid to ensure that she did not take on this dangerous journey. Critics had stated that she was far too young negotiate such a challenging journey. She managed to wrest with the authorities and start her dream accompanied to Gibraltar where she was let off her lease to complete this awesome journey. Not for the faint hearted of course but doable by those those have the determination to conquer the challenge.
Up to this point, Dekker and a team led by her father, have conducted everything correctly when it comes to timing and vessel preparation. She has come across no extraordinary issues with the weather or with Guppy, her 38-foot ketch rigged yacht.
Her final crossing will be the Indian Ocean, which at present there is no certainty as to whether she will sail through the notorious pirates alley between Somalia and Aden (The Gulf of Aden) or via the almost equally dangerous crossing to South Africa via Mauritius and Madagascar and then up through the south Atlantic and into the north.
Born on a yacht in the well renowned yachting port of Whangarei in New Zealand, from a tender age Laura Dekker dreamed of sailing the world unaided and as she is more of a doer than a dreamer this challenge finally got underway. At thirteen, she defiantly decided that she was more than prepared for her first significant solo journey, and once on board Guppy she departed the harbour of Maurik and set her compass course for a waypoint in England. She returned not that long after and her father had hoped his aspirant daughter might have ditched her dream after several days alone on the sea with the wind, waves and rain for her friends. That trip in itself only propelled her into action still further until she finally departed Gibraltar on the 10th August 2010, heading to the Canaries and taking the seasonal north east trades to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia via the Galapagos Islands and the Marquesas.