Posts Tagged ‘pirate’


Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

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!

This post also appears on the Circumnavigation Record 2011 Facebook page.
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Yacht hostages freed by pirates

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Like everyone else, I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the news that after 13 months, Somali pirates had released Paul and Rachel Chandler, snatched from their yacht in the Indian Ocean last year. I followed their story with interest, not least because during my circumnavigation of the world on Spirit of Cardiff in 2002 I had several brushes with pirates – the full story of which is related in my book Confronting Poseidon.

We knew before we set off that the hot spots would be the southern end of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, Malacca Strait and South China Sea. In fact, at the time, the advice from the International Chamber of Commerce’s Maritime Bureau was anywhere within 100 miles of the north Somali coast was unsafe. This automatically put us at risk, because from the Bab el Mendeb – the strait at the southern end of the Red Sea – even sticking close to the Yemeni coast, we were within 80 miles.

As it was our first experience of pirates in a speedboat was in the Red Sea. “Around the corner” in the Gulf of Aden, it was more Yemeni fishermen out in their skiffs trying to pull a fast one. We’d been warned to take no notice if we saw them standing up in their boats waving their arms above their heads in the sign of the international distress signal. First time we saw it happen we wondered whether to head over and see what was up. We decided against it. As we continued on our way, we saw more and more of them doing the same thing.

In the South China Sea we actually had to outrun a pirate boat. I think here it was another case of opportunist fishermen looking for bigger fish. They were in a fairly ancient fishing boat, and when we heard some rather bizarre radio traffic as they bore down on us, we decided we’d better put a bit of a spurt on and opened up our throttle. They tried to chase us for a while but we saw them drop back when black smoke started belching out of their exhaust. I guess they thought it best not to blow up their engine trying to pursue us.

In the intervening years, piracy, particularly Somali piracy, has become big business, and no longer is it confined to coastal waters. With large mother ships, they now venture out deep into the Indian Ocean. It will be very much in our minds when Alan Priddy and I make our second attempt at the powerboat circumnavigation record next year.

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Somali Pirates

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

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.