Calm or dangerous waters?


Recently piracy seems to be back in the news, in particular, violence and piracy against yachts cruising the Caribbean is on the rise. It is perhaps a blunt reminder that we are not talking about Hollywood movies, but a menace to seafarers around the globe.

The map shows known black spots, some readers may be surprised that one or two of the more popular cruising areas feature on it.


For the cruising yachtsman the world is undoubtedly a more dangerous place. For that reason it is worth revisiting advice that the RYA has published in the past.

Piracy comes in two forms: 85% to 90% of attacks are basically marine assaults in which the whole object is to steal cash or anything of value, whether underway, at anchor or tied up in marinas particularly where the chances of prosecution are low. The remainder are well-planned hijackings of entire ships, cargo and crew carried out by organised crime gangs.

Be aware and be prepared

Clearly, the problem is not limited to those areas that make the news.  Thinking about the risks, remaining aware to what was going on around you and taking precautionary measures can help to reduce the risk.

At a time when an increase in marina crime has been reported and in an age when car alarms are the norm, it is surprising that many boats are not protected by something similar. These nifty cost-effective devices will not only inform you by text message if your boat moves outside a predesignated area, but can alert you to intruders and equipment alarms.

So what should ring the alarm bells or at least raise your alert state?

That depends on where you are and may vary on whether you are at anchor alone when a vessel moors too close, alongside when late night loiterers may cause concern or underway where a following boat should be treated with suspicion. Whilst this is far from exhaustive it does give you an idea of the type of thing that you should be conscious of at all times.

Once you accept that you might be at risk and are aware of the possible dangers then it becomes easier to organise your routine and preventative measures. This is extremely important; if you look alert, you are far less likely to be taken for an opportunity target.

The following tips and tricks are worth considering:

• Think about a response; ensure your crew knows what to do
• Be obviously alert to what is going on around you – especially at anchor
• In a high risk area keep your radar going on high resolution and alarmed when at anchor
• Always lock your boat when not aboard – even for a few minutes
• If appropriate fit high intensity lights on lower spreaders or aerial masts
• Fit more than one safe and have a selection of expired credit cards
• Ensure that you have a clear list of what emergency radio calls to make if you are in danger of being attacked, but do not discuss your plans on the radio
• Consider night vision binoculars
• If you are suspicious underway, alter course to see the reaction of the suspect vessel
• Secure your tender when ashore as well as afloat
• Whilst ashore keep an eye on your boat
• Fishing hooks on lines over the side or in a coir mat are an excellent deterrent against swimmers
• Fit an electronic intruder alarm/tracker system linked to your phone and/or very noisy siren/lights etc.
• Vary your daily routine particularly if staying any length of time
• Have a box of sharp tacks handy to throw on the deck for attackers in bare feet

The right type of clothing can also be highly effective. Ear defenders and goggles will help protect vital senses whilst give the impression that you and your crew are highly organised, gas masks as modelled by special forces around the world  are even better in their deterrent effect.

However, for any of this to be of use it is important that you remain aware of what is going on around you by day and night. The dangers of entering an area known for criminal activity can be significantly reduced if the crew take relatively simple precautions. Above all opportunity thieves will be discouraged by evidence of security measures and overt vigilance.

Gulf of Aden and Somali basin

Finally it is worth mentioning the Gulf of Aden and Somali basin which, although not making the headlines as before, remain particularly vulnerable to sailing vessels.  In March 2016 EU NAVFOR/CMF/NATO produced a Threat Assessment which concluded that Somali-based pirate networks and their affiliates retain both the intent and capability to conduct acts of piracy.
Although the last pirating of a Merchant Vessel was in 2012, there have been numerous incidents of armed robbery, indiscriminate shootings and attacks on local fishing dhows.  On shore in Somalia, conditions have not significantly changed in the Puntland and Galmadug regions and criminal networks operate with impunity.

In short, the permissive conditions in Somalia that were present at the start and height of piracy remain.  Whilst merchant vessels are able to implement self-protection measures and employ armed guards to protect themselves, a sailing vessel cannot. For that reason, sailing vessels which are slow and low are extremely vulnerable from opportunistic attacks and hijackings. The crew of sailing vessels are very valuable targets of maritime crime.  

The advice is still stay away!

This article was published in September 2016.