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Colombia, Santa Marta, Taganga Bay: Armed Boarding and Robbery - November 2015

By SV Amarula — last modified Jan 15, 2016 03:14 PM
Taganga bay used to be a favourite stopover for cruising yachts whilst waiting for Colombia clearance. This is the 2nd incident of this nature in the bay (the first reported in 2012). The marina in Santa Marta is now the only secure option here.

Published: 2015-11-28 00:00:00
Topics: Piracy & Security Incident Reports 2015
Countries: Colombia

Go to the following link to read about the Armed Boarding, Assault & Robbery in Taganga Bay 2012.

This is a first person report by victims Lynne Dorning Sands & Eric Toyer of SV Amarula.

Armed boarding in Taganga Bay, near Santa Marta, Colombia, 2.30am Wednesday 25th November, 2015

(We are) very sad to report the above incident.

In all my years of travel all over the world, for the first (& hopefully last) time, we were boarded by armed PROFESSIONAL THIEVES (normal fishermen do not wear shoes) & robbed in Taganga Bay, near Santa Marta, Colombia. (What happened to us) reads almost identical to this one, reported on noonsite in 2012 - http://www.noonsite.com/General/Piracy/PiracyReports2012/colombia-santa-marta-taganga-bay-armed-boarding-and-robbery

(It was 2.30am and) my husband woke up as he felt something bump into the boat. Earlier in the evening he had seen a fisherman in a boat nearby and assumed he'd fallen asleep & drifted into us.

Without much forethought he opened the locked door into the cockpit straight (into) a gun (that was pointed) in his face. There were 5 men, who arrived in a dugout canoe, 4 boarded (the boat), at least 2 had guns and 1 had a knife, that we saw. They hit him on the head with the gun and possibly knocked him out briefly. Meanwhile one stood guard over him whilst the other 3 came inside, grabbed everything they could see of value and I was dragged from my bed with them yelling at me for money & coca.

We don't speak Spanish, so all I could do was show them where I had stashed our small denomination dollars ready for (the) San Blas and they ransacked our drawers & lockers grabbing everything of value including all my years of jewellery (not many items, but all with sentimental value; my Tanzanite from our time in Tanzania, pearls which were a gift from my colleagues when I finished work in Japan years ago & 2 diamond rings, including my beautiful Cullinan diamond, which I was wearing & actually tried to remove and swallow in the midst of it all as they were busy ransacking around me. Maybe it sounds crazy but I know that in Africa they will cut off your finger for your ring....)

We were both tied up and hit by 4 (of them), one held a small knife at my husband's throat.

(They stole both our) outboard motors, all (our) jewellery, watches, phones, computers, cash, credit cards, fishing rods etc.

We did have a plan of action if this kind of thing happened, as our friends suffered an horrific attack in a well known 'safe' anchorage in the Grenadines 2 years ago - http://amarulasail.com/2013/10/14/safety-and-security-in-our-anchorages/We had agreed that we would turn lights on & make noise. If we were locked inside the boat, at least we would have time to make radio & phone calls, but he was sleepy, not thinking straight & went straight out to 4 guys with guns & knives.

They just kept yelling at me for more BIG money & I showed them the now empty wallet waving the credit cards at them saying - this is money. No big money.... We were lucky that they did not take our passports and boat papers, nor did they rip out our main navigation equipment (other than hand held vhfs & binoculars) nor our ropes. I am also thankful that I had actually hidden away our tablet, which has a good navigation program, and they missed taking the dongle from the computer which had a local sim with airtime, so I was able to get a call out to our agent Dino who raised the alarm with the police & coastguard. I could not get anyone on channel 16 or channel 72 for half an hour and it was at least an hour before the coastguard came.

Thankfully we and the dogs (who remained mysteriously silent through the whole episode) are fine. Shaken, stressed & certainly didn't need this..... and yes, we were warned. We had read noonsite, including the comments about the previous report being an isolated incident & many other reports and we had spoken with other people who advised us to go into the marina..... what can I say.... we made  an informed decision.

Conclusions

We built our boat in Australia as a stand alone operation and have spent 8 nights in marinas since we set sail from Australia in 2002 (over 13 years ago). We spent years in East Africa, (Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar), where there are very few marinas or facilities for cruisers. Initially we were living in Tanzania operating a marine consultancy business. We offered low key family, corporate & marine research charters for a few years alongside our main business.  We retired in 2006 to go cruising amd we got 2 small, but loud dogs, which we always believed would be our early warning system. Unfortunately this gave us a false sense of security, as we always believed they would give us advance warning of anyone approaching our home at night (as they most certainly do during the day).

This was our first fatal error in judgement. THEY DID NOT MAKE A SOUND & perhaps they sensed that if they did bark they would now be dead..... who knows?

Secondly we did (not follow) our plan of action.

Let me add here that we have lived on board our 60' catamaran for 14 years and prior to that I left England in 1985 and have lived, worked & travelled overseas ever since, throughout Europe, India, South East Asia and almost 20 years in East Africa, then South Africa. I always read noonsite, Caribbean Safety & Security Network (CSSN),  Facebook cruising group reports etc. prior to going anywhere.

We had been told that Dino was a good agent in Santa Marta and Taganga by 2 personal friends who had used him at the marina before the marina started doing the clearances themselves, plus the positive (reports on) noonsite. (Dino) responded quickly and efficiently to all my emails prior to us arriving. He had the clearances within a week and we cannot fault him at all. He was devastated by this incident and he was the person who contacted the police as soon as I rang him. He came to see us in tears and flatly refused any payment from us, despite doing the work. On our first meeting he warned us to be careful leaving our dinghy at the beach and suggested we stay on board at night.

We feel so sad for him because this affects his business badly too. Taganga Bay is beautiful, certainly the kind of anchorage we prefer, rather than in a marina or even anchored off the city close to the marina. Taking the bus into Santa Marta is quick, cheap and easy. We really hope that local stakeholders in this area can provide an organised safe haven for cruisers, perhaps something similar to PAYS in Dominica..... We did feel vulnerable being the only visiting yacht in the anchorage and we are very large & obvious.

This was certainly an unfortunate & harrowing incident, but please do consider using Dino if you are anchored off the marina or if you are travelling with a few other boats. Ensure you have a pre-arranged security system in place. We truly hope this never happens again in this bay.

Lynne Dorning Sands & Eric Toyer
SV Amarula

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Sue Richards
Sue Richards says:
Jan 15, 2016 03:13 PM

Please note that the statement at the top of the report "The marina in Santa Marta is now the only secure option here" comes from noonsite and not the cruisers who were boarded and attacked.

Spruce
Spruce says:
Dec 03, 2015 11:20 AM

We anchored in Taganga Bay and cleared in there a couple of weeks before the previous incident in 2012. We had no problems and found the locals friendly and helpful. We did not use an outboard on the dinghy and hired a couple of local chaps (introduction via Dino) to watch the dinghy and look after oars while we were ashore. We did have locked security bars fitted to all hatches and companionway while we slept. We understand you are very distressed and coping with the aftermath of the attack...but... to make a judgement that it is no longer safe to anchor in Tanganga one needs to know how many boats have gone there, apparently without issue, since 2012. In three years there may have been a large number of visitors. Without normalising the incidents per volume of visitors it is hard to make a quantification of risk. The police no doubt did take action after the previous crime, 3-years ago, as for police forces everywhere, their focus moves as priorities change. We are sure the police will now make this a priority for a period. There is a risk of becoming a victim of violent crime, even in one's own country. Those of us who cruise may sometimes become exposed to greater risk in certain circumstances/locations, but other risks are in often in turn reduced. If you become a victim it becomes very personal, but without objective statistics it is probably unwise to descibe a location as "used to be" and another as "the only secure option". The recent kidnapping in a previously "safe" marina in The Phillipinnes indicated that. As a rough comparison, our home city of Portsmouth in the UK with population of 108,000 is running at around 240 violent crimes per month in which around 10 use weapons (a country with strict gun controls). Nearby Santa Martha has 380,000 population, more widespread availability of weapons and occasionaly the bad guys go to Taganga for "easy" pickings. Maybe, if only once every 3-years, Taganga might be no more risky than many other Caribbean anchorages.
Andy & Sue s/y Spruce - Malaysia

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