Somali Pirates

The news about the British couple being captured by Somali pirates has a particular poignancy for me. Firstly, I had several brushes with pirates, in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and South China Sea during my epic voyage around the world in 2002 onboard the record-breaking RIB Spirit of Cardiff, the story of which is related in my book Confronting Poseidon.

But more poignant than that, I have been within spitting distance of the container ship on which the couple are now being held. We were at the southern end of the Red Sea, and the sea conditions were impossibly bumpy. For a 33ft rigid inflatable, it meant having to reduce speed in order to avoid injury to the crew as well as not wasting fuel. When the Singapore registered ship Kota Wajar overtook us, we tried to nip behind into his wash. It’s a tactic we’d used previously to great success in heavy seas.

Spirit of Cardiff in the Red Sea - sheltering behind Kota Wajar

Spirit of Cardiff in the Red Sea - sheltering behind Kota Wajar

As we drew closer to his stern we could see a lot of activity on the bridge. But nothing on the radio – ships keep radio silence as a matter of course in pirate territory. Of course, we were a small speedboat, precisely the kind of thing they would have been warned about – so the chances are they actually thought we were pirates! And so we briefly pulled out from the shelter of Kota Wajar’s wash and drew level with their bridge so they could see us better. Spirit of Cardiff was bright yellow, and smothered with sponsors’ stickers rather like a Formula 1 racing car.

Before we knew it they’d called us up on the radio asking our intentions. As it happened, they were heading for Aden, our next stop, but while we hoped we could keep up with them, 19 knots even behind them was too much for us and we had to drop back.

Meanwhile, a mile off to our starboard beam, we could see an open speedboat, making heavy weather of the conditions. This was not the place or conditions for pleasure boaters, and we knew they had to be pirates. We had a couple of rifles with us, which thankfully only came out once to show we meant business – our real asset was the fact that in decent conditions, Spirit of Cardiff would leave most boats standing – indeed, when we tangled with pirates in the South China Sea it was our speed that gave us the edge.

Piracy was pretty widespread in 2002, and we were prepared for it. Now it has become a real menace, and I hope the current situation comes to a safe and happy conclusion.

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