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Violent Pirate Attack On Two Yachts Off Yemen

By doina — last modified Mar 23, 2007 03:29 PM

Published: 2007-03-23 15:29:12

Here is a firsthand account of a pirate attack on two yachts. It took place only 30 miles off the coast of Yemen at 13°28' North 48°07' East on 8 March 5pm local.

This report has been filed with the relevant authorities: the Yemen Coast Guard, Yemen Navy, Aden Port Control, US Coalition 5th Fleet, US Embassy and State Department.

Richard Donaldson-Alves, Controller, Mobile Maritime Net, South East Asian Waters (14,323 MHz 0025 Z daily Wx @ 0055 Z daily)

On 8 March 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi & Gandalf, were moving SW 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden from Salalah, Oman.

At about 0900 two outboard powered boats, about 25 feet long with 3 men in each one, passed off our stern moving south at about 25 knots. An hour or two later they returned, one coming quite close and looking us over carefully. The second boat passed our bows but quite a ways away. These boats were obviously not engaged in a normal activity such as fishing, etc. At that time we were south of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The area around Al Mukalla is well documented as being a piracy problem area and we started watching carefully for anything out of the ordinary. At about 1600 we observed two different boats approaching us head on from the SW. These boats were 25-30 feet long, had higher freeboard and diesel powered. They were coming very fast directly at us. There were 4 men in each boat. The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi’s port side and firing into the cockpit. The other boat was firing an automatic weapon at both Gandalf and Mahdi from ahead, more at Gandalf. These guys were shooting directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us. The first boat swung around behind Mahdi’s stern to come up and board us. At that point I, Rod Nowlin aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12 gage shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced them to keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. I am not sure I hit anyone at that point although I could see the driver of the boat crouched down behind a steering console. After firing 3 shots at them their engine started to smoke and I swung around to shoot at the boat ahead. At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf ram that boat amidships almost cutting it in two and turning it almost completely over. I turned back around to shoot again at the boat behind Mahdi and that is when they turned away from Mahdi and were heading toward the stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us, about 100 feet away. The bow of the pirate’s boat came right up against Gandalf’s stern and two men stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their part. I shot both of them. That boat then veered away and I shot the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome because they were farther away and I did not knock him down like the other two.

Mahdi and Gandalf kept going at full speed to put as much distance between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of rifle range we looked back and both boats were drifting and appeared to be disabled.

If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over into one boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been totally different. All they needed to do was stand off a ways and shoot us to pieces with automatic weapons. We were extremely lucky. We broadcast Mayday calls on all VHF and HF radio frequencies, including two HF emergency frequencies supplied by the US Coast Guard a few days before. The Coalition Forces in the area were supposed to be monitoring these frequencies. There was no response except from a commercial ship in the area on VHF 16 who approached and observed the disabled pirates for a bit, then sailed along side of us for 2-4 hours until dark to make sure we would be all right.

The pirates were well organized and well armed. There were at least 4 boats involved. They had set up a picket line out from the Yemen coast probably at least for 50-75 miles, so if you transited the area during the day they wouldn’t miss you. The two boats that attacked us appeared to have come from the south.

There has been speculation in the past that this ongoing piracy problem off the Yemen coast was being carried out by Somali pirates. Given the number, type of boats involved, and the direction the spotter boats came from, this does not appear to be correct in this case. This problem is getting worse and the pirate attacks are getting deadly. One could only expect that the Yemen Government will take more direct action. At the very least, allow yachts to group in Salalah, Oman and at some point on the NW Yemen coast to request an escort along the Yemen coast.

March 11, 2005

Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired

S/V Mahdi

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