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Northern Malaysia: Attempted Boarding on passage - November 2014

By SV Atlanta — last modified Mar 27, 2015 01:21 PM

Published: 2014-11-15 00:00:00
Topics: Piracy Reports 2014
Countries: Malaysia , Philippines

On November 14, 2014 at 4am I woke Mildred up so that she could stand her watch. We were 35 nm miles west of Pulau Balambangan, the first of the islands of Malaysian waters as we were traveling from the Philippines. Our position was 07 21'.74N 116 17'.72E.

I had the boat sailing wing on wing at 6 knots in a good following breeze.

Before I could lay down to sleep she pointed out a boat coming towards us. It was very brightly lit up and was coming at us rapidly. We also noticed a large boat out in the shipping channel quite a distance away. I went below to get my military issue flare gun. While loading I hear Mildred say “They passed us and they are turning around!!”

I go above and see them approaching my starboard side. I sent Mildred below to start calling a mayday on the VHF radio. Because it’s night and their lights are bright, I hold off firing until I can see if this was either a police or navy vessel. I see no decals on the boat and it is carrying a large load of crates covered with a blue tarpaulin. I fired. They fell back behind the boat and turned off their lights. I reloaded and started the engine to go faster. In a couple of minutes they came up the port side. I fired again They fell back. I reloaded and hurriedly went below and pressed the alarm button on the shortwave, grabbed the epirb and started it as I went back above.

They were still following behind me crossing back and forth across my wake.I had purchased 250 ft of polypropylene rope which was a dark brown to decrease its visibility, while in the Philippines. The idea was to unroll it in 1 long line to catch the prop of a following boat as it crossed our wake.  I started to unroll my rope and within a minute, being a clumsy idiot, it got tangled and soon after was a hopeless mess that I could not feed out.

They approached the port side again and I fired for the third time.

They fell back and followed directly behind me. I looked down at the useless mess of rope at my feet and threw it overboard anyway. A loop of the rope was caught by a stanchion and stretched out the rope mat to about 10 feet. I checked behind me and they were still in my wake. I flipped the loop off the stanchion and it floated back to them. Soon after the mat should have reached them I noticed a light turned on that was  receding. After a few minutes as the light dimmed in the distance I turned off the lights on the boat and changed course. Assumption is the rope managed to get wrapped in their prop.

Due to the location, which is way out in the middle of no where, and the sighting of cargo in the boat, it is assumed by the four police departments in Malaysia that interviewed us that we stumbled through a smuggling operation. The large boat that did not respond to our distress helps confirm this.

Our attempted capture was just a target of opportunity that failed.

What we Learned:

1. They will try to board even if you are moving. In the Philippines it was thought that they would only go for an anchored vessel.

2. We left off the west coast and because we thought we would be so far away from any abu sayiff were complacent. Did not rig rope to spool out as I had planned.

3. Something that shoots was critical. Molotov cocktails pre-made may have come in handy.

4. Sail without lights at night.

5. Buddy boat. Stay together even if one is slower or has mechanical problems. We separated from ours after trying to fix the alternator.

6. Rope was the best 700 pesos I have ever spent. Polypropylene so it will float.

We arrived in Kota Kinabalu on the evening of November 14 (same day) where we anchored in front of Sutera Harbor Resort. The next day we went to the marina there and talked to the manager. She called the police for me and I was interviewed at the resort. Then followed 4 days of dawn to dusk interviews with law agencies culminating in an all day trip to the incident location area on a large police boat.

R. Keith Brauer (USA) and Mildred Villarba (Philippines)
S/V Atalanta

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