Piracy persists

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden received much international media attention this month with the Maersk Alabama incident and the subsequent retaliation attack against the Liberty Sun. The pirates vowed to kill Americans. Until now, flags have not seemed to influence the pirates' choice of ships to hijack, but perhaps that has now changed. All types of boats, from giant cargo ships to
Author:
Publish date:

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden received much international media attention this month with the Maersk Alabama incident and the subsequent retaliation attack against the Liberty Sun. The pirates vowed to kill Americans. Until now, flags have not seemed to influence the pirates' choice of ships to hijack, but perhaps that has now changed. All types of boats, from giant cargo ships to small sailing vessels, have been targeted, and evasion is getting increasingly difficult as pirates move farther offshore.

For example, the French-flagged sailboat Tanit was seized on April 4th in the deep waters of the Indian Ocean. Two couples and a three-year-old child were taken hostage. Several days later, the Tanit was retaken by French commandos, but the sailboat's skipper, Florent Lemaon, 27, was killed during the rescue attempt. It is uncertain whether he was executed or caught in crossfire. Two pirates were also killed and three more captured. While this intervention freed four hostages, it is not clear whether military involvement — either physical contact or its threat — is serving as a significant deterrent against piracy.

Pirates2

The past few years have seen both a massive increase in the number of attacksand advances in the pirates' techniques and offshore-working range. The pirates, who once worked exclusively off Somalia’s east coast, have now shifted their efforts to also include the Gulf of Aden, further complicating matters for the international maritime community. According to International Maritime Bureau (IMB) statistics, there were 13 reported pirate attacks in 2007, similar to previous years; in 2008 there were 92. These attacks, which were once limited to coastal waters, are now being carried out hundreds of miles from shore. The affected area is over four times the size of Texas, and even with fully equipped, modern navies (notably the French and the U.S. Navy), pirates aren’t easy to find. Although lacking in resources, they have several key advantages and plenty of skill in their trade.

“We’ve got to give these guys a lot of respect because they can get aboard a vessel which is already moving, which is very difficult,” says Cyrus Mody, a manager at the IMB. “They may not have modern technology and weapons, but they have the element of surprise.”

The pirates use mother ships to service their smaller attack vessels (often rudimentary affairs with outboard engines and open bilges), which they operate hundreds of miles from shore. These mother ships are typically fishing boats or other trading vessels, which can sustain them for days at sea, but blend in with other working boats in the area. Using GPS and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) required by commercial vessels, the pirates locate their targets then launch smaller skiffs. Typically, two or three skiffs will descend upon a single ship, and, if it is a large cargo boat, they will deploy grappling hooks and rope ladders to climb aboard.

After a ship has been successfully captured, the pirates can pilot the craft (or force its crew to do so) back to Somalia for a home-field advantage. “The failure of the country itself… is giving the pirates a free hand,” says Mody. In port, the pirates have nothing to fear from their government. The captured ship and crew is then involved in a waiting game for ransoms to be negotiated before they are released.

The international community is coordinating efforts to stop piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, but a solution may require more than ocean patrols. While a life of piracy may seem dangerous to the rest of the world, according to Mody it can be quite attractive to young Somalis. “Because of the situation in the country… the risk they take is negligible in comparison to what they have to gain,” says Mody. The threat of being killed or captured is not a likely deterrent.

Somalia itself agrees: "If you can solve the problem on the land — and that means support the current national unity government — you'll easily stop the piracy," Somalia's Minister for International Co-operation, Abdlrahman Warsame, told the BBC's Focus on Africa program.

But until that happens, mariners are encouraged to be extra careful, or to avoid the area all together. “Masters should have a very, very good lookout maintained when they are transiting these waters,” says Mody. “And if they realize there is a potential threat, they can take evasive maneuvers and call out for help.”

French captain Patrick Marchesseau, whose vessel was hijacked in 2008, agrees. "When you see them coming, it's too late," Marchesseau says. “[Pirates] are more armed than you, and life has, I think, a bit less importance in Somalia, based on what I've seen."

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more