Eritrea: Yacht Pursued
The following is an account of the Sailing Vessel Tactical Directions being approached by a fishing boat off the coast of Eritrea.
Sunday 6th April, 2008. 1315hrs. Tactical Directions was sailing north from their anchorage of the previous night headed for the island of Difnein Island where it was intended to stop for the night before proceeding further north. We were in company in Mariah who was to leeward and astern about 3-4 miles. As we approached the island the decision was made to continue an additional 150nm as we were sailing in a NE breeze under a shy spinnaker with a speed over ground of 7.5 to 8kts. As we were very close to the island we were able to sight a largeish Eritrean fishing boat anchored off, together with a couple of smaller fibreglas fishing boats with outboard motors. As we were abeam of the island and the small settlement one of the fishing boats started to approach us with two males on board. They clearly wanted us to stop. As we had the spinnaker up and were travelling quite fast we made our intentions clear that we were not stopping. They stayed with us about 3mins and then finally headed back to the island.
Approx. 10 mins later we again saw them headed back out to us. I commented to my one crew member that I thought the only reason they went back to the island would be to get a gun. We radioed Mariah and advised them of the situation. They immediately started to motor toward us but they were not going to catch us for about 1 hour. The fishing boat again approached with the guy in the bow waving the gun and indicating to us that he wanted us to turn and go back to the island. We refused to stop and that is when he fired the first shot into the air. Further arm waving from them and we responded with arm waving trying to indicate that another boat was coming and I made out that I was on the radio. The bowman again fired his gun (a rifle that looked like an automatic weapon) a single shot in the air. With that we looked angry, trying to clearly indicate our intention not to return to the island with them.
Somehow, whatever it was we did, or they had second thoughts, they broke off and turned around and went back to the island. We proceeded well past the island, dropped the spinnaker and waited for Mariah to pass the island. At the same time as they were passing a freighter was also passing which may have been fortuitous at the time.
We have tried to contact Massawa Port Control numerous times on Ch16 and 2182 with no response. We have additionally tried to contact both Gone With The Wind and Balvenie who we know would be following us within a couple of days. We were hoping that these boats could report this incident to the correct authorities in Massawa as we know they were visiting the town.
Whether these people wanted more than just food I'll never know now. BUT. If a fishing boat goes back to an island (which only had 3-4 fishing huts on it) and comes back with a gun, fires warning shots, and wants you to go back to their island, I would seriously doubt they only wanted food.
Tony Roberts, SV Tactical Directions (VHN5359)
Update on Eritrea Incident reported 8 April
We have just completed a voyage down the Red Sea, with the Vasco da Gama Rally, and we think it is important for yachtsmen sailing in that area to be aware of the following:
When sailing in Eritrean waters yachts should expect to be approached by the military, especially in the vicinity of the Islands such as Difnein which have military posts. Although this is an area subject to a large military presence they do not have their own
coastguard boats but are likely to use plain fishing or utility boats. Also they may not be uniformed! However they have every right to ask to see papers. In our experience they have always been courteous and on one occasion they waved us on after checking that we were flying an Eritrean courtesy flag. (Of course any yacht sailing in a country's waters without flying a courtesy flag is asking for trouble.)