Through the piracy area. Salalah to Aden
03rd of March 2009
We left Salalah in a sandstorm and no wind. The visibility is poor, maybe one mile. Our convoy is formed by three other boats: an American, an Australian and a Danish. All the boats are 37ft so this way we can maintain similar speed. There are 2 routes possible through this dangerous water. Either sail near the corridor; this is where the warships are but also the unlit cargo ships and most of the pirates. The other option is to sail near the coast but here the problem is the fisherman and some are armed. We opted for the latter. The group chose seven waypoints along the route, so we all knew where to head, always keeping within one mile or less from each other. We broke the rules and run with navigational lights at night.
The British Navy told us some of the difficulties to defer the attacks. The first problem is to identify who is a pirate, there are a lot of fishing boats around and high speed boats smuggling goods. The area patrolled by the Navy is 800 miles long, to get to the boat in distress takes time, sometimes it is too late, not to mention all the false alarms used for decoy. Finally there is the legal side and international and territorial water rules. The Navy guys find this task very frustrating.
Last night was very busy on VHF main channel. Three merchant ships contacted the American Navy, since these ships were followed by suspicious speed boats. One of ships was putting into action the "defensive plan". Then the main radio channel got blocked for 5 minutes with music, another tactic used by the pirates. Today we could sail with little wind. This proved to be a real challenge, to keep close once under sail. Sunburnt and us left the other two boats a bit behind, but regrouped in the evening. We have to sail as we donít have enough diesel to Aden. Before sundown lots of fishing boats came near from nowhere. We watched the boats for a while but they just waved at us, guess they are not pirates.
More Maydays, but now it was during daytime. Even our German friends, on a separate convoy, seven miles behind us, had a go at it. Six speed boats came very close to the Germans. They panicked and called Mayday. The response from the French Navy was prompt and reassuring. The Germans were concerned that the speed boats were following them and also they picked up on radar some other boat ahead that seemed to be the mother ship. The French warship's aircraft advised that they will be flying over the area in 10 minutes, a quick response. The Germans gave the bearing and distance of the mother ship. Few minutes later the aircraft flew over our heads and reported back to the Germans that the only boats out on that position are 4 yachts! Must say we had a giggle. Whilst all this was happening we were trying to contact our convoy to close up and had no response for over one hour. They were all eavesdropping in the German's conversation with the Navy. Cracks are starting to appear on our convoy. The Americans have engine problems and all besides the Danes, who carries 750ltrs of fuel, are running low on fuel due to the strong current against us. Today we slowed down and the Danes made some remarks on the radio. They offered to supply fuel but because of that they feel like everybody has to keep up with their speed.
The tables turned, with 10 knots of wind all the boats in the convoy can sail and go fast, but the Danes, they have a very heavy boat. Adding to that, the Danes also had some engine troubles. Nobody slowed down this time. So far it has been very hectic with sail changes, hoisting cruising chute, polling out the head sail. With light winds and lack of diesel we have to make the most of every little wind and at the same time keep up with the others.
We are registered with UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Operations) and they are monitoring our progress daily. The Coalition Forces have been on top of every distress call, doing a brilliant job despite the difficulties. At sundown our group was split apart, a fishing boat approached the boat further away from the group. More boats appeared in the horizon, it looked suspicious. Graham decided to close up to the boat in danger, with a very abrupt manoeuvre. That must have sent a message to keep away as the fishing boats disappeared as quickly as they arrived.
The spirits lifted, everybody in the convoy seems to be glad that it is almost over. To make thing even better today there was a nice breeze of 12 knots. The sails went back up again and all the boats, but the Danes, were moving fast. Now the concern was to get in at daylight so nobody was holding back and the group sailed loosely. Despite the bickering, we all arrived safely without issues with fuel.