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Haiti, Petit Port a Piment: Violent Attack on Cruising Couple - First person report

By Val Ellis last modified May 19, 2015 11:10 AM
This is the harrowing story told by the couple who were violently attacked on board their boat whilst at rest at Petit Port a Piment, located on the south side of the Northern Peninsula of Haiti, close to the city of Gonaives.

Published: 2015-04-20 23:00:00
Topics: Piracy & Security Incident Reports 2015
Countries: Haiti

Haiti, Petit Port a Piment: Violent Attack on Cruising Couple - First person report

Map of Haiti clearly showing Gonaives up north and Corail down south - Courtesy of Free Cruising Guides

This incident took place on 16th April 2015. See incident report here.

As told by Hans Rijsdijk, Skipper of SY Pelikaan,

Our attackers were not fishermen, but traders sailing large, unmotorised dhows. During our short stay in Haiti we only met friendliness from the local fishermen and bought some crayfish. Friendliness was all round and no signs of pushing and touting. Our attackers were also entirely illiterate. They could not even distinguish between a visa card and a Walmart card.

In a nutshell we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had we stopped in a different location (with no trading ships around), nothing would have happened.

Detail of our attack.

We were asleep with a security gate in the gangway door when at around 11 pm we heard footsteps on the deck. We got up, and saw between 10 - 15 guys at the stern. I yelled out and stepped into the cockpit. They had tied their dhow to one of our winches. Later we also found that they had slung a rope around the rudder. The dinghy had already been taken off the deck (it was securely tied on) as was the life raft. They were removing the solar panels. We raised the alarm, firstly by sending a MayDay over the VHF (16) and the SSB (2182). NO RESPONSE, not even from the US Navy base at Navassa Island, less than 140 nm away. We also sounded the horns a long time until they broke them off. The attackers tried to tie me to the railing and pull me overboard. They also tried to wrap a rope around my wife's neck. While I was trying to cut the lines I was pounded with clubs, sticks and a machete and someone ransacked the inside and stole computers, Kindles, binoculars, cameras, shoes, etc. Most of them useless to them as there is hardly any electricity outside the large cities and they did not take any chargers or batteries. Finally it became clear that they wanted cash. We told them we did not have any, but used credit cards. My wife showed them a Walmart credit card (she did not want to show them our visa card). They took a uncomprehending look at it and threw it back on the deck. Then I pleaded with one of their bosses to let us go, which they finally did.

Since the attackers had smashed our steering compass we could not steer out of the bay and in fact grounded the boat in the mangroves (in hindsight I think this ensured our survival). Somewhat later we heard the dhow approaching again and we heard loud discussions with the words 'police'. Fearing another attack, my wife again started the engine to try to become afloat again. No success. Then at 2 pm the first of the dhows drifted out of the bay, followed by the rest.

In the morning the local police arrived.

We were taken to hospital in Gonaive 55 km away. I did not return to the boat. My wife did so to collect our papers and some suitcases and to accompany a delivery skipper from Ile a Vache, where the boat is now safely (we hope) anchored.

I was diagnosed with a broken arm and a crushed finger apart from multiple bruises and machete cuts, later increased in a Sydney hospital to 2 broken arms and 2 broken fingers. My wife suffered serious bruising and in Sydney doctors removed a 5 cm splinter from her hand.

Haiti is an utterly poor country that received a quadruple whammy with an massive earth quake in 2010,  followed by a series of tsunamis and a hurricane later that year, plus a cholera epidemic. We have visited many poor countries on our travels (Madagascar, Laos), but none as poor as Haiti. Despite its religious nature, Haiti is also violent, particularly in towns and cities.

Hans Rijsdijk
Skipper SY Pelikaan

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