Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thoughts and Notes about the s/v Quest Hijacking Off Oman

This incident has no doubt been in the news and in everybody's minds over the last few days. We, like hundreds of other boats in various stages of circumnavigation, are monitoring the situation between India and the Red Sea pretty closely. And of course we are really bummed about the fact of the piracy continuing... and getting worse. And we are horrified how this incident turned out.

People keep worrying about us, but we are far far from that area (which is between India and Africa), and will make an informed decision... probably not for 5 years... about exactly what we will do, when we get there. For now, the Pacific is a pretty safe place to be cruising, and we won't be out of here for a few years at least.

Meanwhile, here are a few comments from boats in the area. This was originally posted on the Pacific Puddle Jump Yahoo Group, in a discussion about just how risky it is to try to make the run from India to the Red Sea. Normally I would just include a link to the discussion, but you have to be a member of the group to read the messages. So here are a few key excerpts that give a clearer picture, from a yacht standpoint, of the situation.

From s/v Bebe, who's blog we've been following for a couple of years:

The week before Quest was captured we decided to ship our boat to the Med -- as did 9 other boats. We made this decision based on the extreme increase of pirate activity this season over previous years AND the turmoil in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Algiers -- and now Iran sending warships up the Suez Canal to provoke Israel. The entire area seems to be sitting on a powder keg and the last thing we wanted to happen was to get caught in the Red Sea and have to turn around and come back through the pirate areas, especially during the stronger SW monsoon.

We have been tracking pirate activity since we were in New Zealand. Pirate attacks within the Northern Indian Ocean were increased 13 times this season over last season (Oct thru 10 Feb). Last year there were 6 in the IO and this year there were 78. In the Gulf of Aden there were 7 last year and 10 this year. And now the pirates are going as far north as Massawa, Eritrea. Here is my analysis on the risk level at this time..

We had hoped to be loaded in Cochin; but since 7 of the boats were already in the Maldives and only 3 here in Cochin, the transport company opted to load in Male. They will only stop in 1 port in this area for this unscheduled transport. The 3 of us here in Cochin must sail down to Male to be loaded onto the transport ship. BTW, clearing into the Maldives will cost $680 USD for 30 days, $20 more per person if you discharge crew or take on more crew.

Shipping will be on SevenStar Yacht Transport. Cost $650 per foot, including any overhangs like dinghy davits and bowsprits. That includes insurance and Suez Canal fees, cradling, loading, everything. Shipment from Male, Maldives to Marmaris, Turkey. Insurance is through Pantaenius and does cover wars and civil unrest, both of which are normally excluded from most insurance policies. Also, this shipment of 10 boats was arranged through the efforts of a shipping agent. The price is the same whether you deal with an agent or directly with the company. The company was treating each of us as a separate entity and we were all getting nowhere getting a ship diverted for this unscheduled stop. The agent grouped us all together and when SevenStar realized they were dealing with 10 boats in one location, they agreed to divert a ship to load us.

A number of other boats have turned around and will either spend another year (or more) in SE Asia area or will proceed via Capetown when the weather season is appropriate.

For those of you just starting across and those who are well behind us, start thinking of all your options now. These situations (both piracy and political turmoil in the Middle East and Africa) are not likely to be solved soon.

All that said, we have close friends on 5 boats out there now and are acquaintances with about 2 dozen more boats currently sailing through these dangerous areas. So not everyone has changed plans. In fact, one boat departed Cochin about 2 hours after learning about the capture of S/V Quest. Prefer not to name the guy, but he is determined to circumnavigate on his own boat bottom and not transport. It is a pride thing of being able to claim that he has circumnavigated, which would not technically be true if he ships the yacht up the Red Sea.

and another later post by s/v Bebe:

BTW, another Blue Water Rally (BWR) yacht made an emergency call about 2 weeks ago between Cochin and Mumbai when 2 skiffs loaded with 20 men jumped off a 16-meter fishing vessel and came at him at high speed. We know this yacht well. He changed course and evaded at his maximum speed of 10 kts. After several minutes the pursuers returned to the fishing vessel. Was this another attempted pirate attack? Or were these simply fishermen? Who knows. In an email earlier today our friend in the BWR Rally said the passage conditions are "horrible" and the stress almost unbearable.

On the issue of American yachts being targeted less... one of the Somali pirate spokesmen stated in 2009 that they are particularly interested in capturing both American and French hostages and killing them as retaliation for the French rescue of the yacht off northern Somalia and for the American rescue of the captain of the Maersk Alabama. To think that American yachts are any safer than any other flagged yacht is foolish.

And finally:

The NATO Shipping Centre has this latest advice for yachts:

'The danger of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin is high and continues to increase. Naval forces strongly recommend that yachts do not transit this area. Merchant ships use Best Management Practices (BMP) to win time for the naval forces to assist them. With a low freeboard and slow speed, yachts are particularly vulnerable to pirate attack. Any direct response from naval assets will depend on the proximity to the incident and may not occur.'

'BMP3 and the self protection measures described in them were not designed for cruising yachts nor will they be sufficient to prevent boardings by Somali pirates.'

This statement was issued 2 Feb 2011. As one can see, the experts also do not believe that yachts are less likely to be targeted by these pirates. It is just chance on a big ocean. Run into the pirates and they will try to capture any vessel.

Unfortunately... as I listen to the world news this morning, I feel like the pirate issue is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things--especially when it involves yachts. There are VERY FEW U.S.-flagged merchant vessels these days (thanks to union laws in the U.S.). We can only hope things will have gotten better by the time we get to India and have to make a decision.

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