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2005 - Piracy Reports from Gulf of Aden

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 21, 2009 06:27 PM

Published: 2009-01-21 18:27:07
Topics: Piracy Archive 2000-2005

More On Piracy Concerns in North Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden
Published May 2005.

Noonsite’s recent report on piracy concerns among sailors planning to sail in the Indian Ocean has brought us further comments.

We have been in contact with the UK Coast Guard and were assured that UK registered yachts are welcome to contact MRCC Falmouth if they have suffered a piracy attack. MRCC Falmouth will then alert if possible the SPOC for the SRR they are in. They should also consider alerting vessels close by if they are fitted with DSC and selecting the piracy option. If fitted with Inmarsat they could also do the same and alert shore authorities that way. In the case of other nationalities, the skipper should contact their national Coast Guard office. Noonsite already had confirmation from US Coast Guard in Norfolk, Virginia, that US yachts that have been attacked, or threatened, may contact them.

As the usual emergency radio frequencies have been of little use in the past, in case of an attack, those equipped with satellite phones may call +973 1785 3283 (CUSNF in Bahrain) or +253 813031 the French Navy in Djibouti, but it must be stressed that even if the authorities are prepared to respond, it could take several hours for help to reach a yacht in distress. UK flagged yachts may contact MRCC Falmouth on +1 44 1326 317575. US flagged vessel may also try USCG in Norfolk, Virginia, on +1 757 398 6231, who will endeavour to locate a vessel in the vicinity of the attack and request it to go the assistance of the attacked boat. The Coast Guard may also co-ordinate any rescue operation, or liaise with naval forces in the area.

Richard H. Donaldson-Alves, Controller of the Mobile Maritime Net in South East Asian Waters writes: “The Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur has had 32 "piracy" incidents for Somalia since March 2005, of which 10 took place off the North Coast. They do not say if yachts are included in the number - my own info has a total 4 yachts. The definition of piracy = any illegal act of violence, detention or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew of a private vessel against another vessel on the high seas (i.e. in international waters). Robbery: the crime of theft of goods or chattels within a given jurisdiction.

I have reported many robberies from yachts in S.E. Asian waters over the last 6 years. The Piracy Reporting Centre does not record them. Nowadays North Borneo's waters require that yachts chain their outboard motors (on average one a month is stolen, the Piracy Reporting Centre does not record them). When a yacht reported to me from the Anambas Islands Indonesia that they had been boarded and robbed at gunpoint - I forwarded it the Piracy Reporting Centre but it was not recorded until I insisted that they take it on board - subsequently it was determined that Indonesian Navy personnel were responsible for the piracy. My gut feeling is that poverty, warlords and gangs will shape the way pirates operate in the Gulf of Aden this coming run for the Med. In other words, if they are not able to take a ship, any yacht will do - that's why I guess it is safer to take all reports as applying to any type of vessel.”

Rod Nowlin of S/V Mahdi writes: “We are working on trying to figure out a way for yachts that are going through that area to better protect themselves from pirates/terrorist attacks in the future. It is a real uphill battle as far as the coalition forces out there in the Gulf of Aden are concerned. They made it clear that their primary focus is antiterrorist, but whether they like it or not, they are being sucked into this piracy problem as evidenced by the cruise ship attack that showed what appeared to be a French warship anchored next to them on the TV reports.

As Americans we have some influence with the American and possibly British forces. Unfortunately the French and German navies are in the Gulf of Aden. We talked to the US military attaché in Cairo and his suggestion was that yachts hire guards to go with them from Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen or the other way. Obviously yachts don't have the wherewithal to hire mercenaries, but (!) we do have the ability to ask our respective governments to intercede i.e. state department, with possibly the Omani and Yemeni governments to have 2-3 of their Coast Guard or Army personnel to go with a large group of yachts transiting the Gulf of Aden, paying the expenses incurred by them.

We are probably not going to have much luck asking for a direct escort for groups of yachts from Coalition forces. The Yemeni Coast Guard is getting organized and there may be some help on the horizon from that direction. Also, right now there is no direct communication link i.e. HF radio or satellite from a yacht directly to the coalition ships there. We need help getting these links set up. It probably won't help much with an initial attack, but it would deny them the ability to take people hostage because all of these warships have helicopters aboard that can reach a yacht quickly.

All of the international yachting organizations and especially the yachts planning to transit this area this year need to start making direct requests for assistance that actually require an answer from their governments. You should have contacts with a lot of yachting organizations who have direct input to their respective governments. We need to send out a direct appeal to these organizations for their help.

Hiring mercenaries may be well beyond the financial means of most of the yachts. That is why I have been pushing to get the local forces there involved. I know that the Yemeni Coast Guard is very sympathetic to the problems the yachts are facing along that coast and they just don't have the boats and trained personnel yet to deal with the problem effectively. The Vasco De Gama Rally that is heading south now toward Indian from the Med, has quite a few boats involved. One avenue of a definitive push for help may be for them to formally request armed guards aboard for the trip to Salalah. That way someone in authority has to actually make a decision.”

8 March, 2005
YEMEN - Violent Pirate Attack On Two Yachts

Contributors: Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired, SV Mahdi

Here is a first hand 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, 5 pm 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.

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.

Addendum to Report of Attack on the Sailing Yachts Gandalf & Mahdi (above).

Contributors: Rod Nowlin, USN Retired, Rebecca Nowlin, Jamee Nowlin - S/Y Mahdi

The attack on Gandalf and Mahdi, which occurred on 8 March 2005 in the Gulf of Aden was perpetrated by pirates (?) or terrorists (?). They did not act like normal pirates (how do normal pirates act?). They were certainly trying to kill us from the outset. There is a very real possibility that it was an attempted hostage situation, especially if advance information was sent from Salalah, Oman that 4 US boats had departed for Aden, Yemen. The 2 slower boats were 20-30 miles behind us at the time of the attack. The real motivation for the attack will probably never be known. You would like to think that it is possible to transit the area at night, but the area of reported attacks is too large. You make your decisions based on circumstances at the time and live with them. We have had a lot of feedback concerning the attack from various sources. Most of it supportive, but also some from armchair pundits uttering stupid and ignorant comments and questions. "Walk in our shoes"! The whole episode was very traumatic and we will not respond to any of those.

We have been in contact with Commander Webber, USN at 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain concerning the attack. He seems to think that a commitment to provide an escort for yachts grouping in Salalah, Oman and requesting an escort is possible, but there will have to be some pressure applied from higher sources ("political"?) or it probably won't happen. Let's not attempt to put all of the pressure on the US Navy. There are yachts from numerous nations affected. The international yachting community has the capability of applying some pressure to their governments to follow up on this (please do so).

As far as we can determine at the time of the attack the US Navy and the British Navy were patrolling the Arabian Sea and points north. The German, French and possibly Italians were in the Gulf of Aden. One of the yachts with us was stopped in the Arabian Sea, SE of Oman by the US Coast Guard for a "safety inspection". They asked the Coast Guard for emergency HF radio frequencies that the coalition forces would be monitoring and were supplied with two frequencies. We tried calling on these frequencies over the next several days. It turned out that they were fictitious, and no one was listening. One was actually a broadcast station. All of us tried contacting coalition vessels by VHF radio to clarify the frequencies but no one would ever respond.

At the time of the attack we broadcast Mayday calls on all known VHF and HF radio frequencies. The only response was from a commercial vessel. This vessel sent out reports via satellite. The next morning a German warship was close by and we were able to report the incident to them. This was 12 hours after the attack and they hadn't heard anything about it. When we arrived in Aden we gave the Yemen Officials the report and had a long talk with the Yemeni Coast Guard commanders. They are just getting organized and do not presently have the capability to actually patrol the Yemen coast. They stated that a lot of the Yemen coastal areas are tribal and the central government doesn't have any control at all. They also warned us to be careful of retaliation by the families of the bad guys. We then contacted the authorities in Djibouti to voice our concerns about retaliation and requested that they keep an eye on us between Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea. They assured us that they would inform the naval authorities so that they could provide assistance. We did manage to contact a French warship outside of Aden when we left there. They had no information about our request for assistance and if you can believe this, didn't even know about the attack 8 days before in their patrol area! They did consent to watch over us until we made the entrance to the Red Sea, where we stayed on the west side going north. No sense in tempting fate twice. Gandalf was struck by bullets about 14 times. Mahdi was struck 3 times. Fortunately none penetrated the hulls and no one on either boat was wounded. Thank goodness for steel boats!

Emergency HF radio frequencies, like 2182 MHz, no longer exist in most of the world. No one is listening. Any request for immediate assistance will probably come from a commercial vessel in the vicinity, but commercial vessels are not capable of effectively dealing with attacks of this type. At the most they might scare the attackers off. These attacks happen so quickly that unless you had an actual escort in the immediate vicinity getting help quickly will not happen. The "Coalition Forces" out here are a myth. It appears that there is no central authority i.e. no one in charge. The right hand does not know what the left one is doing and most certainly there is no communication between them. You are on your own out here and you had better be prepared to stand on your own two feet.

6 June, 2005
SOMALIA - USS Gonzalez wards off attack on civilian mariners

Contributor: Jeff Fedor

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66), currently operating as part of Task Force 51 in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility, helped ward off an attack on motor vessel Tigris June 6 in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia.

The guided-missile destroyer received word of the attack via a bridge-to-bridge radio report from Tigris. The crew of the motor vessel, who escaped uninjured, reported they were under attack and being fired upon. "The master [of Tigris] sounded extremely scared and provided Gonzalez his position and requested immediate assistance," said Cmdr. Jeffrey Griffin, Gonzalez's commanding officer.

To let the attackers know of their presence, the crew of Gonzalez fired .50 caliber machine guns, energized their searchlights, and fired flares in the direction of the attack in order to illuminate the area. "I believe that Gonzalez's very overt approach was likely observed by pirates, who then broke off contact on M/V Tigris," said Griffin. "M/V Tigris appears fortunate to have had a Coalition warship in the vicinity when the attack occurred or she could have become a victim."

USS Gonzalez continued with its MSO mission while concurrently monitoring Tigris' passage. MSO sets the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment and complements the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. MSO denies international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.