When British cruising couple Rachel and Paul Chandler had their boat hijacked and were taken into custody by Somalian pirates four months ago, the sailing community put a halt to visiting the Gulf of Aden and surrounding areas. Now, as news of the couple's plight has quieted down, NATO is warning sailors of becoming complacent about the still-pervasive possibility of piracy in the area.
"Whilst NATO is working hard conducting counter-piracy patrols, ships have to accept personal responsibility for the safety of their crews and should have in place the recommended self protection measures against pirate attacks," said NATO Admiral Trevor Soar.
One look at the numbers supports Soar's claims that the Gulf of Eden is still ripe with danger. According to the 2009 edition of the IMB annual piracy report, there were 406 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery in the world, making it the third successive year that the number of reported incidents has increased. Somalia remains an area of paramount concern, laying claim to 217 of those attacks, 47 hijackings and 867 crewmembers taken hostage in 2009 alone.
Of these attacks, the story of the Chandlers has particularly struck a chord of tragedy in the sailing community. The couple was kidnapped en route from the Seychelles to Tanzania, within sight of a British military ship, which claimed it did not act for fear of putting the Chandlers in even more danger. Since their kidnapping, the couple has been separated from one another, deprived of medical care and severely malnourished. Paul is rumored to have contracted trachoma, an infectious disease common in East Africa that could result in blindness. Recent photos of Rachel show that she is pale, gaunt and nearly unable to walk.
A story in the Times quoted a British security officer saying, "This case is unusual. Unlike many seamen kidnapped in the region, the Chandlers are just ordinary holidaymakers without the backing of a big company and the pirates may well be realizing this now." Indeed, the Somalian pirates have decreased their ransom from $7million to $2 million, but the British government continues to refuse to pay the ransom. Interestingly, when a British politician offered to pay the ransom in full, the Chandler's family refused, asking that he instead "wait and pray."
In light of these striking numbers and startling stories, NATO suggests strongly that sailors avoid the area completely. However, if you insist on risking the sail into the Gulf of Eden, they have issued this helpful document that enumerates procedures to follow before your journey and in case of a hijacking. Among other things, the report suggests that boats stay within the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, an area patrolled by warships from NATO, the EU Naval Force and the Combined Maritime Force. Previous to departure, it suggests minimizing external communications, stowing all ladders on deck and making sure your crew is well rested and well aware. Once under sail, boats are advised to never travel at low speeds. If boarded by pirates, the document suggests, "Offer no resistance; this could lead to unnecessary violence and harm to the crew" and "Remain calm and co-operate fully with the pirates."
NATO Admiral Soar said, “Since the NATO mission started, there has been a 50% drop in piracy incidents in the Gulf of Aden, but there is still a need for vigilance. The monsoon period is due to end and over the next few weeks we may well see a rise in pirate gangs attempting to hijack vulnerable ships.”