Posts Tagged ‘Somali’

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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