Pirates

The news this week that four Americans taken hostage on their yacht off the coast of Oman by Somali pirates had been killed by them was extremely sad, but an inevitable escalation – it was going to happen sooner or later. As the Circumnavigation Record 2011 project shifts up into higher gear, we’re keeping tabs on what’s going on. Ultimately, our approach to the situation goes something like this. Plan A: We keep a low profile and try not to get noticed. Plan B: We use our vastly superior speed to outrun any pirate vessels. Plan C: We don’t talk about Plan C.

Spirit of Cardiff tailing the cargo ship Kota Wajar in the Red Sea.While the level of attacks in 2002 was significantly less than what’s happening now, it was still a problem which Alan Priddy and I prepared for in order to keep Spirit of Cardiff and her crew safe. On the plus side, the glass fibre boat sat very low in the water, and in normal operation we had an active radar transponder in order to make ourselves visible to ships around us. Once we left Jeddah, we switched it off, and it stayed off for a fair way round the Gulf of Aden. Ditto our night running lights. Yup, against international maritime law, but who’s checking? Similarly we maintained radio silence, except at the point in the southern end of the Red Sea where we were trying to slip into the wash of a cargo ship to make better speed in very choppy waters. Ironically, that same cargo ship, the Kota Wajar, is now one of the many anchored off the Somali coast for more than a year, waiting for someone to pay a ransom. And lastly we turned off our web tracking service so our position was no longer available to those following us on the internet.

We also had a good idea about the tactics the pirates used, so we were prepared for it when it happened. As it turned out, we had several brushes with pirates, from the dangerous ones in speedboats to the more opportunist variety such as the Yemeni fishermen out to try and supplement their catch. This time round we know the pirates are much better organised, and they venture a lot further afield from the Somali coast, using large mother ships to enable them to operate way out in the Indian Ocean. Even the presence of a number of NATO warships isn’t enough to deter them.

So once we get going, you have an idea as to what we’re likely to have up our sleeves. It would be imprudent to divulge what other measures we may have to take, but of course we’re hoping that we never get further than Plan B!

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