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2004 - Piracy Reports

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 21, 2009 05:56 PM

Published: 2009-01-21 17:56:53
Topics: Piracy Archive 2000-2005

23 February, 2004
GULF OF ADEN - Yachts Pursued And Attacked

Contributors: Donald & Kathyrn Radcliffe

The following three incidents took place in the waters between Somalia and Yemen the night of 23 February, 2004. Klondike is a US registered sailboat owned by Donald & Kathyrn Radcliffe from Santa Cruz, California.

The first incident happened about 2000 hours local time (GMT 1600) in position 13 degrees 50 minutes North, 50 degrees 05 minutes East. About 1 hour after sunset, and 1 hour before moonset, Klondike was travelling at about 4 knots under sail in 8 knots of wind on a course of 250 true. We were travelling with only a low powered all-around light due to the threat of piracy in the area. We saw a single white light slightly off the starboard bow. Radar indicated a small vessel at 2 miles, and we could see a bow wake as it headed towards us. We responded by turning 40 degrees to port, and the other vessel changed course to intercept us. As the other vessel closed, we turned on the engine, turned on our running lights, turned further to port, and started to accelerate. The other vessel closed to within 50 meters of our starboard quarter, and we could see what looked like a diesel powered boat, 8-10 meters in length, perhaps a ship's lifeboat, with 2-3 men on deck, coming toward the bow. They were clearly trying to approach our starboard quarter, with smoke coming from their diesel exhaust, but we accelerated away from them as our speed increased to 7 knots. They fell in behind us, and we broadcast a Mayday call on VHF channel 16, giving our position and the situation.

The Mayday call was answered by a yacht 12 miles astern, and we advised them again of our situation and position. We extinguished all lights and varied course between 210 and 270 degrees. The other vessel receded behind us, and appeared to break off the chase after about 5 minutes. We came to a course of 210 degrees where the sails assisted our speed, and motor-sailed at 7 knots until the other vessel disappeared from the radar at about 5 miles. The ultimate intention of the other vessel remains unclear, as we were able to avoid contact closer than 50 meters, but it appeared that they were preparing to board us. No weapons were seen or heard.

The second incident took place about 2300 local time (1700 GMT) the same night, in position 13 degrees 39 minutes North, 49 degrees 49 minutes East. While travelling without lights on a course of 250 degrees, we observed a single white light approximately on our port beam, which appeared on radar at 5 miles SSE of our position. By radar, it appeared to be heading on a course to intercept us, so we changed course to 300 degrees, accelerated to 7 knots while motor-sailing, and tracked the other vessel. It continued to converge on us, and we estimated its speed to be over 8-9 knots.

After about 20 minutes, the other vessel was approximately 4 miles astern, so we made a course change to 240 degrees, and accelerated to our maximum speed of 7.5 knots. The other vessel responded by changing course to follow us. After 20 minutes, we repeatedly hailed it on VHF Channel 16, informing it that if it continued to follow us, we would broadcast a Mayday, but got no response. It closed to 3 miles behind us, and we broadcast a Mayday at 2340 with our position and situation on VHF channel 16 and HF 2182 Khz. The only stations to respond to our Maydays were the group of 4 yachts 12-15 miles northeast of us. We requested one of the yachts, Solara, to use his satellite phone to call the authorities. He called Australian Marine Safety Authority (61 2 6230 6811), who told him that they would report the situation to the piracy control center in Kuala Lumpur (60 3 2031 0014), and told him to call back in 30 minutes. We fired 2 parachute flares during this time, which were reported seen by the group of following yachts.

After 20 minutes, the other vessel closed to 2 miles, but had swung in directly behind us, so we again altered course to 180 degrees, allowing us to reach across the wind which had increased to 16 knots, bring our speed to 8.5 knots. The other vessel turned out its lights, making its location more difficult to track, but seem to be falling back slowly on radar. After another 30 minutes we changed course to 140 degrees, slowing our progress to 7 knots, but heading into the waves and hopefully making it more uncomfortable and difficult to follow us. The other vessel did not respond to this latest course change, and disappeared from the radar screen after another 10-15 minutes. We called the yachts following on the VHF and told them to report to the authorities that we were no longer being closely pursued. We held the 140 degree course for another 30 minutes, then changed course to 330 degrees to join the group of four yachts which was following us. We made contact with them about 0130, and had no more incidents the rest of the night.

The second vessel never got close enough to get a visual description, but it was clearly more sophisticated than the first, with a speed of perhaps 9-10 knots, probably radar and VHF radio. It had no problem tracking our radical course changes at a distance of 3-5 miles on a night with no moon. We believe that the combination of the flares, the VHF traffic with the other boats, and their small speed advantage discouraged them from chasing us for more than an hour.

The following morning we were contacted by a helicopter from the Coalition naval forces that had been alerted by Kuala Lumpur, and that afternoon we got a visit from a Spanish warship. A boarding party came aboard to verify that we were not being held hostages and took the details of the incidents. The Spanish warship provided a loose escort our group until we neared Aden. Words cannot express how grateful we were for the escort, as it was through a region where numerous yachts have been attacked in recent years. We had made arrangements to convoy through this dangerous area, but our problems occurred about 80 miles east of the historical attacks.

Was the first boat innocent and curious fishermen, and were we overreacting? Was the second vessel unable to understand English and trying to come to our aid after we set off the flares? We will never know for sure, but when a boat intercepts you at night in lonely waters 60 miles offshore in the Gulf of Aden, we believe it is wisest to assume the worst.

The third incident was the French Yacht Le Notre Dame, who was boarded and robbed by armed fishermen/pirates on 27 February at 13 degrees 30 minutes North and 47 degrees 51 minutes East. The yacht was approached at 1300 local time about 30 miles off the Yemen coast by a small fishing vessel with 5 men on board. The men had knives and automatic rifles, and took cash, cameras, binoculars, and other easily accessible valuables. The crew was shaken but unharmed, and proceeded to Aden. In this case, a Coalition warship heard the relayed distress message on VHF, asked commercial shipping to assist, and responded with a helicopter some 6 hours later.

Both Sailmail and Winlink present challenges in connecting with distance transmitters here in the Red Sea. Winlink with transmitters in Italy and Qatar has been more user friendly. Winlink allows 30 minutes/day per station versus the 10 that Sailmail gives totally. You've got more time to make several attempts at connection to Winlink. Transmitters for Sailmail are located in Belgium, Mozambique and Brunei. Late evening connections to Brunei have given the best results on Sailmail.

28 February, 2004
VENEZUELA - Armed Boarding & Robbery at Punta Pargo (10.43N 62.034W)

Contributors: Robert Monnier, S/Y Myriad

This is a report concerning an armed robbery in Punta Pargo on my sailing yacht Myriad, a 40 feet aluminum sloop of French registry, and the murder attempt on the one person aboard, myself, Robert Monnier, traveling from Cumanà to Trinidad.

I was aware of the security situation on the Paria peninsula between Araya and Punta Mejillones. I thought of motor sailing mostly at night, and avoiding the Puerto Santos area. I wrongly assumed the security to be better on the East side of the peninsula.

After stops on the way in Isla Lobos for the first night and then in Carùpano for part of the next day, I motored overnight to Punta Pargo (10.43N 62.034W) and anchored there on Saturday February 28th at 09:15, planning to go the next day to Cabo San Francisco and leave early Monday for Trinidad. I had various contacts with kids swimming to the boat to whom I gave caps, with a fishing boat that was in need of fasteners – a few were given to them. I strolled ashore, spoke with people then went back on board.

I had a very good contact with a fishing vessel, Papanian II, anchored close by and the mate Daniel, who speaks good English. They invited me to share a lunch of grilled fish, rice and arepas. Late in the evening, the bay started filling up with fishing boats coming in for the night, which gave me some misgivings. Myriad was the only sailing yacht in the bay. I took the bimini down over the transom, which makes boarding the cockpit from the sugar spoon area awkward and difficult. I settled to sleep in the cockpit at about 21:30, the dinghy tied up to the stern with a painter – a rigid bottom Bombard with rowing bench and oars. The outboard is stored on the transom railing.

At about 22.15, I was awakened by voices and noticed the presence of two or more men on the platform at the stern. I immediately started shouting loudly at them in Spanish to get away. There were voices and the flickering light of a torch (wood? gasoline-soaked rag?) coming from the starboard side, probably from the llanchita (small wooden dinghy with oars, no engine) they must have used to reach Myriad. I realized that one of the men had a facemask and then assumed that the situation was the most dangerous. I jumped through the companionway still shouting and started looking for flares. In the five, ten or fifteen following seconds, as I was rummaging for the flares, the intruders were trying to induce me to come out with soothing words: "Amigo, venga, venga". I perhaps poked my head out to see if they had come into the cockpit, went down again for the flares. More or less at the same time two things happened: a shot was fired and I triggered a flare holding it the wrong way and hurting my thumb. The intense pain prevented me from realizing that the shot had been directed inside the cabin. Subsequently I continued shouting at them to leave, begging them not to come on board and not to take the dinghy, screaming in the VHF a mayday that I knew nobody would respond to.

I don't remember what they might have said at that time, I was struggling with the flares, they perhaps thought I had a weapon. They were still trying to get me to come out. One of the men, the masked one I think, made some very clear death threats, I don't recall exactly if this was before or after the gunshot. I was still screaming, allowing silence to hear what they would say or trying to find out about their movements. After a while I couldn't hear anything coming from the stern, but couldn't know if the intruders weren't standing still waiting for me or if they had gone.

After a few moments of calm, I came out cautiously trying not to get shot in the process and noticed no presence. I could see the dinghy rowed away with two men on board, barely visible along the cliff closing the bay on the East, towards the North, away from the beach. I started monitoring their progress with binoculars. The llanchita wasn't there. In the following minutes the dinghy was met by a motorized fishing llancha (roofless fishing boat). The group was about 600 to 800 yards away apparently struggling to deflate the dinghy or take it aboard. The llancha pulled the dinghy further out and then West. It was not possible to determine whether the group was headed for some place further down the coast to the West (Ensenada Mejillones?) or if they stopped at the furthest fishing boat, perhaps before returning to the shore in Punta Pargo. I went back and explored the inside with a doused torch. I then noticed the tracks of the gunshot on the roof of the companionway damaging wood on the headliner and battens. I also took stock of the fact that my head had been in the track of the gunshot a fraction of a second before it flew inside Myriad.

I tried then to make plans for the rest of the night and decided it was not possible to stay alone on Myriad for the night – I would have felt insecure, and I realized I didn't have the means to deal with another attempt. I summarily closed Myriad, went quietly into the water, swam to Papanian II and woke them up. They hadn't heard a thing. I asked for shelter and spent the night there mostly not sleeping but looking at Myriad barely visible in the dark a hundred and fifty yards away, seeing of course hordes of attackers boarding her from all sides.

At first light I swam back to Myriad (Papanian II doesn't have a dinghy) and was happy to realize that she had not been visited again. With daylight and freshly brewed tea I was able to take stock of the damage – a quantity of wood shards littering the floor, big splinters of the overhead battens, one shot finding its way through the roof panel and inside the insulation - but overall mostly cosmetic, no navigation instrument or other equipment damaged. Daniel and a friend from Papaniam II came aboard and were very sympathetic, helping me to clean and comforting me. We then noticed a half dozen holes in the forward bulkhead and a broken lamp. Later on I realized these pellets continued to do damage on the other side of the panel, piercing aluminum tubes and paddles for a kayak. Shortly after I left to complete my trip to Trinidad.

In Conclusion
The intruders probably approached Myriad in a small llanchita. Two of them made off with the dinghy, the rest with the llanchita. They couldn’t have swum to the boat, as the upper part of their body seemed dry. Were these men from Punta Pargo, from another settlement on the coast, from a fishing boat, or a combination?

The bimini made ingress difficult and awkward but also somewhat prevented me from seeing the major part of the intruder’s bodies or someone hidden underneath.

It seems the intruders were not happy with the nearby presence of other fishing boats that might have become aware of what was going on. The nearest fishing boat clearly was aware of something but didn’t interfere – anyway it wouldn’t have done any good, they didn't have a dinghy either, their engine had trouble starting and the prospective of being fired at could not be more desirable on their side than on mine.

The firearm used is most probably a shotgun – one empty 12 gauge cartridge was left behind, a few pellets were collected in a cushion or badly deformed by their track. Shotguns are a part of daily life in Venezuela, seen everyday and everywhere. They fire one shot at a time and need to be reloaded for the next shot. The fact that one empty cartridge was left behind may mean that the shooter had reloaded. It may also have been a homebrew firearm, fairly common in Venezuela too. The cartridge is rusty.

It is clear that the intentions of the intruders were the worst that can be imagined and I realize how fortunate I am to be alive to tell this story, with no physical wounds and not in an utter state of terror. I am very happy – and lucky too – that the engineless dinghy was enough to satisfy them and that Myriad was not vandalized.

I was wrong in my assumption that anchorages east of Cabo Tres Puntos, however remote from Puerto Santos, would be safe. If I had studied the recent events, I perhaps would have been in the opinion that there could be no absolutely safe harbour except perhaps Carùpano where you can anchor a couple hundred yards from the Vigilancia. I could have continued straight to Trinidad on Friday, but was ahead on my schedule and wished to spend some time resting and cleaning the boat. I also wanted, ideally, to avoid the overtime tax in Trinidad, but ended up arriving Sunday anyway.

5 March, 2004
GULF OF ADEN - Yacht Saltaire Robbed off Yemen Coast

Contributors: Bill Morris, s/y Saltaire

Following is the bulk of a letter I submitted to the Aden coast guard station in Yemen, following a pirate attack by Somalis that my 1966 Cal 30 "Saltaire" (San Pedro, Calif.) and I suffered six months ago. My apologies to fellow Noonsite readers for not having submitted this previously. Something I purposely omitted from the letter was that the attackers left the permanent-mount Garmin GPS in place, and they failed to find another hidden hand-held GPS unit and a hand-held ICOM VHF radio. The purpose of the letter was obviously to report what was stolen, not what remained to be stolen. Another interesting detail was that when the pirate leader tried to yank my gold chain from my neck, I told him that it had been given to me by my "wife" (actually my fiancee Marilu); in an act of compassion, he let me keep it along with the Garmin GPS, which I needed for navigation. The attack was definitely a bad experience that will always remain with me, but it could have been far worse.

March 11 2004
This letter regards the pirate attack my 30-foot, 7-ton sailing vessel Saltaire endured in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, 5 March 2004. At about 1800 hours I was motor-sailing at 4.5 knots at N 13 13', E 48 33, approximately 45 miles south of the Yemeni coast, when a wooden dhow, black in colour with a wide, yellow, horizontal stripe and an orange plastic sheet on the bow, began approaching my vessel. I made several attempts to turn away from the dhow, but it persisted in blocking my path. At a distance of about 50 meters, one of the three men standing on the raised rear deck fired three warning shots with a semiautomatic rifle. They began yelling loudly and motioned for me to stop and drop the mainsail, and I complied. The gunman fired another shot into the air, and then the three men boarded my vessel, the gunman keeping guard on me in the cockpit while the other two robbed the cabin.

They spent 15 minutes going through drawers, clothing, and bags, and removed the following items from my vessel: a Kenwood TS-50S ham/marine SSB radio, a President brand permanent-mount VHF marine radio, a Pentax K1000 camera, a Pentax ME Super camera, a hand-held Magellan 100 GPS, and a wallet with 20 dollars cash. Total replacement cost is approximately US$2,000. The attackers were apparently Somali: they were of African origin and spoke a language other than Arabic.

Their motorized dhow was carrying 15 to 20 women and children and appeared to have a maximum speed of 7 knots. The weapon was a military-style semiautomatic rifle, roughly .30 calibre, with no protruding magazine. It had a wood stock with a bell-shaped butt like that of an American M-60 machine gun. The leader carried a knife with an 8-inch blade, which he used to cut the cables to the radios in order to keep the connectors. As the dhow was pulling away, the crew waved and yelled "Bye-bye!" and then the gunman fired a final round over my mast.

5 April, 2004
400 MILES SW OF PANAMA – Yacht Attacked

On April 5, 2004 at approximately 15:00 local time, the sailing yacht Yume Maru, en-route to the Galapagos Islands from Panama, was rammed on the port side by a fishing-type vessel. The yacht's position at the time was reported as 03°20.0'N 084°44.0'W, about 400 nm south-west of Panama. The two people on board the yacht report that there were 7 or 8 men on the fishing boat. Five of these men boarded the yacht armed with knives and handguns. The two people on the yacht were tied up by the men who then removed electronics, charts and maps, navigation equipment, marine VHF and SSB equipment, GPS's, some personal jewellery and ransacked the vessel.

The suspect vessel is described as being a fishing-style boat, approximately 20m long. It was painted with a black top, red bottom and a white cabin. The victims also reported that the part of the fishing boat that struck their boat had blue paint under the red. After the suspect vessel left, the yacht's crew were able to free themselves and make their way back to Panama.

Easter 2004
ST. VINCENT, CARIBBEAN - Attack at Anchor in Chateau Bel Air

Contributors: Iain McGregor.

We were attacked as we lay at anchor off the coast of St. Vincent, Easter 2004. We were anchored in Chateau Bel Air on the west coast. Luckily we all are alive, but my son was threatened with a knife!! We would advise all cruising yachtsmen to avoid St. Vincent altogether.

17 June, 2004
VENEZUELA - Fatal Attack On Yacht at Ensenada Medina

There have been several reports of piracy involving yachts on the Venezuelan coast in 2004, but the following has been the most serious.

The captain of the French yacht "Les Chouans" was found shot dead on his yacht, apparently coming out of the cabin. The single hander was anchored for several days at Ensenada Medina, Venezuela, in company with another French boat. The second yacht left for Grenada early on June 17, with Les Chouans intending to leave soon after for Los Testigos. The two yachts had VHF contact about 9 a.m.

After several days of no contact, the Venezuelan Coast Guard found Les Chouans in a small cove apparently adrift, i.e. the anchor was on deck, the engine was not running, and the sails were furled. The captain was found with a gunshot to the head, and numerous valuables were discovered missing.

The second boat was contacted via the Security Net and the French Net, and is returning to their home port in Martinique to assist French authorities, who are co-operating with the Venezuelan authorities in the investigation.

The French net operates at 09.00am SSB 6945. The Caribbean Safety and Security Net: SSB 8104.0 at 1215 UTC, Melodye Pompa on "Second Millennium" is Primary Net Controller. Caribbean Cruising Association publishes detailed lists of all attacks on yachts in their region (

14 July, 2005
Incident On Panama to Galapagos Route

Contributors: Shelly Storves & Richard Derowitsch on Sandpiper

Information and a word of caution for cruisers sailing from Panama to the Galapagos. On July 14, 2004 we were chased by a boat near the Isle De Malpelo at 3 deg 48.59'N by 80 deg 21.6' W. The boat had a dark hull (probably black), small white cabin near the stern, 40 or 50 feet long, raised bow, rigging above the cabin and forward to the bow, the vessel was similar to many of the local, wooden boats we saw in the Galapagos.

We first noticed the boat at about 10AM. It became apparent that he was on a collision course with us so we changed our course by 30 degrees. Shortly after we altered our course he did the same and continued straight for us from the windward side. We then turned on our diesel engines to increase our speed to 8 or 9 knots. The seas were very heavy and both boats were getting knocked around, we were struggling to maintain speed. We are a 37 foot catamaran and seemed to have slightly better control than him. We began to pull slowly away from him even though he followed our every turn.

Eventually we lost sight of him and he disappeared from the radar when he was over 5 miles away. We then went to the opposite tack in an attempt to further elude him. Roughly two hours later we again spotted him coming directly at us from the windward side. As before we did everything possible to increase our speed and were able to slowly pull away from him. We maintained speed for the next 24 hours and never saw him again.

September 2004
PAPUA NEW GUINEA - Attack on Yacht near Lae

Contributors: Denis Rumpf

In September 2004 whilst travelling from Alatou to Madang after departing Australia from Cairns, on a 11m Australian Registered Yacht "Tanandra" with a crew of two on board, we were robbed and attacked at Cape Gerhards, Hamisch Harbour PNG.

We arrived at the harbour about 4.30pm after a day sail from Morobe and asked a local fishing boat for the best anchorage position for overnight. The group assisted cheerfully and on being shown the position another canoe with four males on board came out. We were anchored about 50m from the shore. After anchoring we gave boat vessels a gift of food and proceeded to eat and prepare for a good night's sleep. On retiring about 8pm the boat was secured from the inside and a light placed in the cockpit for security.

About 9pm I heard a person whistling continually so I looked out through the top hatch and saw a canoe with 3 persons on board about 10m from the boat. I spoke but received no reply and then went back to bed. About midnight I was awoken by noise and noticed the cockpit light went out. On opening the top hatch looking to the stern of the boat where I saw a person, I was hit from behind and they attempted to drag me out of the hatch. I dropped back down below and secured the hatch as I dropped.

My partner in the meantime attempted to close a small hatch above the galley and was chopped across her hand with a large bush knife. We placed a towel on the hand and attempted to contact other ships with a Mayday call. No response was received. Threats to kill us were being shouted, bush knives and a home made gun were being poked down the hatch, and a lot of bashing on the decks were going on. I shot a flare out the hatch amongst the robbers and immediately all went quiet except for a departing sound of a shot from the home made gun.

After a few minutes of quiet I armed myself with a knife and bolt cutters, cut the anchor chain and motored away. No further sightings of anyone were seen and as my partner was bleeding and we were not sure of the extent of the wound we decided to motor to Lae (35 nm away) to get assistance. On arrival at Lae yacht club we were assisted to a clinic and her injury was stitched.

This was a serious incident, more than robbery, and since then I have heard of more incidents in the area and around Madang. I would advise any cruising yacht to be extremely cautious in the PNG area.