Somali Piracy and the 2011 Convoy Scene

Pirate attacks on sailing yachts have been much in the news lately. The good news is that bluewater cruisers Paul and Rachel Chandler were finally released unharmed on November 14 after being held hostage by a Somali pirate gang for 388 days. The
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Pirate attacks on sailing yachts have been much in the news lately. The good news is that bluewater cruisers Paul and Rachel Chandler were finally released unharmed on November 14 after being held hostage by a Somali pirate gang for 388 days. The bad news is that yet another sailing couple, Bruno Pelizzari and Deborah Calitz, of South Africa, was taken prisoner by Somali pirates on November 7.

This serves as a rather ominous prelude to the upcoming Indian Ocean and Red Sea passage season, which generally begins in January as bluewater yachts start leaving the west coast of Thailand and migrate west via the Maldives to Salalah in western Oman and thence through the Gulf of Aden and up the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal, with the goal of reaching the eastern Mediterranean by April or May.

Since 2009 the Somali gangs that prey on shipping in the western Indian Ocean have greatly expanded their range. Where attacks previously were limited to an area within 200 miles of the Somalian coast, within the past year attacks on all types of shipping have occurred over 1,000 miles from Somalia. It is believed that the pirates are in fact a bit more likely to attack a yacht when at the limit of their range and endurance.

The Chandlers, for example, were sailing their 38-foot yacht, Lynn Rival, not too far west of the Seychelles when they taken by pirates on October 23, 2009. The South African yacht Coizil, meanwhile, was taken off the coast of Tanzania on October 26 of this year. The boarding pirates in the latter case took the yacht and its crew north and finally ran it aground on the Somali coast on November 7. At that time they succeeded in getting crew members Pelizzari and Calitz ashore, but failed to evacuate the boat's owner and skipper, Peter Eldridge, who resisted strongly and soon afterwards was rescued by a Dutch warship.

As of Nov. 26 there was at least one report circulating that the Dutch Navy has arrested a group of 20 Somalis suspected of being involved in Coizil abduction. Meanwhile, however, those still holding Pelizzari and Calitz have yet to make any ransom demands. (The Chandlers, we should note, were released only after a ransom of about $900,000 was paid by family and friends.)

There is a strong anti-pirate military presence in the western Indian Ocean, known as the European Union Naval Force Somalia (or simply NAVFOR in military-speak), but their primary mission is to protect ships bringing food aid to Somalia and other commercial vessels transiting the area. NAVFOR's official advice is that yachts should not enter the area at all.

Because of their low freeboard, pirates can board yachts much more easily and quickly than large commercial vessels, and once aboard there is little a military vessel can do to safely dislodge them. The Chandlers, for example, were taken prisoner in the presence of a military vessel. In another incident in April 2009, Florent Lemacon, skipper of the French yacht Tanit, was killed during a daring rescue attempt by French commandos. (The French government in reaction has proposed a law allowing it to seek reimbursement of costs from rescued persons who deliberately expose themselves to an obvious danger.)

Despite all the nastiness, approximately 200 yachts transit the western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden bound for Suez each year. The vast majority of these now travel in convoys, and there has been no reported instance of a yacht from a convoy being taken by pirates. NAVFOR therefore recommends that yachts that insist on transiting the region do so in convoy groups and that they report their presence to the NAVFOR command.

Convoys generally form in Salalah, Oman, in February and March. The best practice is to travel in smaller convoys of five to six boats, as this makes it easier to maintain a close-knit formation. The recommended minimum distance between boats is about 200 meters, but this can be increased slightly at night. To maintain formation, all boats must travel no faster than the slowest member of the group, so it is best if all boats have similar performance characteristics. Also, obviously, crews on all boats must maintain vigilant watches.

The best resource for learning more about piracy in general and Indian Ocean yacht convoys in particular are the Piracy Pages at the World Cruising Club's very useful noonsite.com website. Here you'll find comprehensive reports on yachts that have suffered attacks, best-practices reports, contact info for all relevant authorities, official ISAF recommended procedures for yachts transiting the area, as well as other important resources. There is also an excellent online forum where cruisers gather to form convoy groups.

The most interesting group now forming bills itself as the Thailand To Turkey convoy, or TTT 2011. Organized by Dutch cruisers Rene and Edith Tiemessen, who previously transited the Red Sea in 2007 aboard their 60-foot Rhodes sloop Alondra, TTT 2001 looks to be run like an informal cruising rally. The goal is to gather a very large group of yachts that can then be broken down into smaller convoy groups. An organizational meeting is currently scheduled for December 22 in Phuket.

Related

01-LEAD-GMR_ISLA_0415-1

Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric ...read more

Lee-Cloths-Lee-Boards-and-single-bunks-on-ISBJORN_by-Andy-Schell_Trans-Atlantic-2019

The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state ...read more

210727_JR_SE_Tokyo20_186871368

Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke ...read more

Happy-Cat

Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several ...read more

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more

AC75-No.-1

ETNZ May Abandon New Zealand

Remember when the Kiwis were the young, underfunded upstarts of the America’s Cup world, with right on their side as they took on the Big Bad Americans? Remember the withering criticism leveled at Larry Ellison when, in the wake of “The Comeback” on San Francisco Bay, arguably ...read more

01-LEAD-EX26_1119_dehler_30od_race_2nd_077_web_4zu3_300dpi2048x

Boat Review: Dehler 30 One Design

I’ve long believed that while they may not be as much fun, the best sail trials are the ones that take place in drifters since it’s then that a boat’s performance—or lack thereof—really becomes evident. Pretty much any boat is fun to sail in 15 knots of wind. That said, there’s ...read more