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2005 - Piracy Reports from Other Areas

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 21, 2009 07:38 PM

Published: 2009-01-21 19:38:29
Topics: Piracy Archive 2000-2005

11 Feburary, 2005
PANAMA TO GALAPAGOS - Yacht Pursued En-Route

Contributors: Karsten Staffeldt, the Panama contact for the Scandinavian Ocean Cruising Association.

Australian yacht "CARDONNAY" has had a narrow escape from possible pirates en route from Panama to the Galapagos Islands, closely echoing two incidents in 2004. The incident occurred on Friday February 11th 2005, at 02°13 N 86°22 W, about 300 miles from the Galapagos.

David and Roseanne's account of the incident is as follows:

"On route to the Galapagos at around 4:00am on my watch things were going as usual. Our watch system had become more and more lax as we were not seeing any vessels and we were at great distance from any land. Something prompted me to get up and look around and I saw two lights of a ship on our starboard side. I was very confused as the brightness indicated a very close proximity but I could not see the red or green navigation light that would indicate which side of the boat I was looking at. After a while I woke Rosanne up to get a second opinion. Over a period of about the next half hour the lights continued to get brighter and then I noticed a second set of lights on our port side getting brighter also. It was becoming obvious that it was not a container ship I was trying to identify but a number of small craft closing in on us from both sides. After another 20 minutes or so there appeared another boat coming towards us from another direction. At this point we were in the middle of at least five boats coming in towards us. I tried radio contact but none of the vessels responded.

From a safety perspective the situation was becoming more serious until I started to consider these vessels were trying to engage us. I immediately turned off our navigation lights to black out our boat. I noticed then the random direction the boats on our starboard side started to move. I started to head for the gaps to keep them as far away as possible. We managed to slip the net so to speak except for one boat the fastest and brightest of them all. She clearly had us on her radar and was pursuing us on an intercept course regardless of the direction we took. With our engine in full power we continued to keep her at a distance but she was getting closer by the minute and it was approaching sunrise.

As the sun began to rise we could see the vessel clearly and now they could see us not only on Radar but with their own eyes. Their vessel appeared to be about 1/4 to 1/2 a knot faster than us. We began to make preparations to be boarded. I asked Rosanne to make herself less attractive by covering herself up as much as possible and she got some money out which would be high on their priority list. When things were looking desperate. the wind picked up just a little. Enough to put out some sails which increased our speed by about 1/2 to 3/4 of a knot. Over the next hour we were able to put them over the horizon. I have since learned there was a piracy attack within 90 miles or so last April."

Note: A Japanese yacht was attacked and robbed on April 5, 2004 about 400 nm south-west of Panama, and yacht Sandpiper just managed to outrun another boat on July 14, 2004 in a very similar incident to that described above.

March 2005
COLUMBIA: First Impressions Not Always Right

Contributors: Kevin and Betty Donahoe, SV Citation.

We left The Gulf of Panama with a strong northerly blowing around 30 knts - this was great as we were heading south to Ecuador. Our only plan for Columbia was to get past it as fast as possible due to recent reports of pirate activity. On the third day off the coast of Columbia we did have a fast powerboat with four men in it come screaming straight towards us. They pulled up alongside Citation (did we have stress at this point??) - and told us (my Spanish which is bad, took a quantum leap) that they had a "Long Line" Fishing net up ahead and that we should follow them so as to safely pass it. When we got to the long line they weighted it down so that Citation could pass unfouled. We traded beer - it's so much more than just a breakfast drink - and last saw their smiling faces waving goodbye to us. We hate to think about when they approach a gun toting Texan. It confirmed our plan to be armed with only smiles.

Jimmy Cornell had a very similar experience when he single-handed Aventura III from Panama to Ecuador in 2002. This is what he reported at that time:

....There was a reason for keeping up a good speed as I was trying to pass as quickly as possible through this stretch of Colombian waters. As a precaution, I had set a course that kept me well offshore and only closed with the coast on the fourth and last night. By now I was about 30 miles off the Ecuadorian coast, and signs of its proximity became increasingly obvious. We passed through an area with lots of debris probably caused by heavy rains inland. Dodging uprooted tree trunks in the dark was quite unnerving, but by now the wind had dropped to almost nothing so it was easier to slalom under power.

By dawn I was confronted by a new menace: miles of long fishing lines barely marked by floating buoys. Single-handing under these conditions didn't seem so much fun any more, especially as first the keel and then the rudder got entangled with a line. I managed to free the line by pumping up the centerboard or rudder, and as I was peering ahead for clear water, I saw in the distance a boat approaching me at great speed. It looked like a whaler-type boat about 25 foot long with three rough looking guys who, even at a distance, looked quite menacing. There was little I could do but wait and see.

As they got closer, they started waving frantically, and once I could also hear what they were shouting, I understood that they were trying to guide me clear of their lines. They shouted to follow them and when we were finally clear of the lines, they waved good-bye and were gone. As they disappeared in the distance the thought occurred to me that here was a perfect example of the dilemma faced by anyone carrying a gun on board: when to shoot? If one waited too long until the intentions of the possible attackers became clear, they might have got too close and using one's gun may be too late. If one shot at them when they were still at a safe distance, one might end up shooting some innocent fishermen, as in this very case.

So, once again, I decided that whatever the dangers involved, guns were not for me!

GALAPAGOS – Strange Encounters near the Galapagos

Date: 17 March, 2005
Contributors: Leon Schulz, S/Y Regina

On March 17, a ship of about 30m approached us, sailing yacht Sancerre (37 ft) a day after our departure from PUERTO BAQUERO, SAN CRISTOBAL. The ship stopped 200m behind us and a tender with 5 men on board came towards us; when it was close one of the men shouted "Agua" and showed an empty jerry can. The sea was flat calm and we were motoring. We gave them a gallon of water and some cigarettes which they asked for. One of the men spoke to us in Spanish after asking our nationality (French) and our destination (Marquesas). Then they left (to our great relief); the ship had no name or nationality visible, and as they were approaching they did not respond to our requests for an explanation.

Date: 27 May, 2005
Contributors: J Audeon, s/v Sancerre

German Yacht Nis Randers had a similarly strange encounter on May 27 on position 02°16N 082°48W, with a fishing boat which became entangled in the yacht's trailing fishing line. The yacht managed to make radio-contact with an American Coastguard vessel, who took this incident very seriously, immediately altering their course to their position. An hour later the fisherman appeared again, now approaching from the port side. The Germans waved friendly, but no response. Then, they showed their portable VHF shouting "American Coastguard" pointing East. The visitors immediately changed course and set off with high speed from where they came. Their account (in German) can be read on their “webpage”: as well as a photo of the fishing boat: They also write on another place that one of their friends were "visited" a couple of weeks earlier in that area, but they were able to outrun the "visitors" by high speed. It is a shame that such a popular leg between Panama and the Pacific now seems to have a major piracy threat.

Contributor: Michael Sullivan
Last season we left Equador on the first leg of the passage across the Pacific in our 34ft sloop Tacks. However before leaving we met a German Cruising yacht that was on its second circumnavigation. they did warn us that we would encounter many fishing boats of different sizes on the first leg to the Galapagos most of which would close our yacht looking for water. We were advised to carry as many 5 ltr bottles of water as possible, in order to supply any approaching vessel looking for the same, thus avoiding contact and a possible boarding. This proved to be the best piece of advice we had in our 4 years of cruising. The second day out we were approached by the first of several boats all asking for “agua”. As they came close, having the water ready to hand we were able to toss the bottles to them wishing them luck with their fishing and bearing away at the same time this tactic worked so well, that although feeling very vulnerable at times, we also felt that we were in charge of the situation once the water was asked for.

5 May, 2005
INDONESIA - Worrying Incident Near Ayerabu Island

Contributors: Christopher Turner, Bryan Lewis & Dawn Strawford - SV Ten Large
Ten Large is a 60ft Cutter Rigged Sloop, built in 1999 with a Perkins 135BHP Engine.

We left Tioman Island (Teluk Tekek) on Wednesday 4th May at Midday, destination Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. We travelled through the night and sighted Ayerabu Island, Indonesia around 8.00am. 5th May 2005. We decided to take a short stop to check and make possible repairs to our Fuel Change Over Pump. As we neared the Island a young man (early Thirties) came to the bow of the boat and was directing us to where he thought we should anchor, we kind of followed him in to the bay and thought “Oh that’s really nice” a friendly face; he had a long tail type boat with outboard engine. This was at 10.30 am.

Whilst we where looking for a good place to set the anchor another boat which we did not see or hear came alongside us. The boat was around 4 meters in length, somewhat like a fishing boat, with an inboard engine. One male was waving a very large gun at us (looked like an AK47 machine gun). I would estimate that there were around 10-12 persons in this boat. We stopped our boat and allowed them to board us, the male with the gun boarded us first followed by 8 others, these were all young males in their thirties. The male with the gun was wearing jeans and a brown and white t-shirt with a marine motif on it, the rest were all dressed in shorts and t-shirts.

The male with the gun asked our Captain to go below decks with him, which he did. This male could speak no English and the only word he uttered was “passport”. So we produced all of our passports for him, he looked at one for a second and then proceeded to the Aft Cabin with the Captain. All he could say was “dollars, dollars you have dollars”. We told him we didn’t have dollars, the captain offered him cigarettes in the hope that they would leave, he took the cigarettes but still insisted on money. The male had been onboard now for some 20 minutes or so, the other 8 males were walking around on deck or sat in the cockpit with Bryan and myself.

The captain then gave him around 300.00 Riggits, which was all we had close to hand, we did not want to open any cupboards or drawers, due to the fact that the male with the gun was following the Captain at all times. The male was still not satisfied with this amount and then showed it to the rest of the males onboard, they muttered something in Indonesian, and the male (with gun) came back below decks. Bryan followed him this time, to see if it was possible to get him to leave. We think that this agitated him or unnerved him because he proceeded to smash our saloon table with the butt of the gun, as he did this one of the other males immediately came below and again they where muttering in Indonesian together. The male then spotted our hand phones which he took, but they still wanted more money. I gave them my handbag, I opened the purse and showed them all the money in it - around 250.00 Ringgits, I gave it all to them and explained that was it, no more money, he could see the purse and all its contents on the table, he took the money and showed it to the others (some of it). They stayed onboard at least another half hour picking up sunglasses, cigars, cigarettes lighters etc. - anything that was on show they took, but they did not take the fishing rods, outboard engine, or other big things that were above decks.

I did have a digital camera in the saloon, which they could see, but they did not take it or show any interest in. They had a few more looks below to see if we had anything else and then decided to leave. They shook hands with us all before they left, the male with the gun called back to the fishing type boat which came alongside, they all departed happy and jolly as if it was just another day at the office. However the first young male who directed us into the anchorage, followed us for about 1 mile before he turned back to the island.

The coordinates where the event took place are: 02.46.064N and 106.12.285E.

We tried to contact Richard on the Asia Net to let him know, but it was not possible to contact him. We tried for 3 days, on the 4th day we arrived at Port Bintulu where the Police made us very welcome and helped us moor the boat. We said that once we had everything sorted with the boat we would come and see them for check in etc. We did go to see them twice, but were informed that it was not necessary. Whilst at the anchorage in Brunei we where informed that Richard from the Asia net was trying to locate us, we managed to inform Richard of this incident on 18th May 2005. We will wait until our arrival at Kota Kinabulu to report this incident to the Police.

30 June, 2005
ITALY - Pirate attack in the Straits of Messina

Contributors: Maria and Markus, S.Y. Columba

British sailor John L. has asked us to relay the following information. He is presently cruising single-handed from Greece to Naples, on his Najad 390. As he was entering the Strait of Messina, he was met by strong Northerly winds and decided to head for the port of Saline Joniche. This massive Industrial port is generally described as unusable in the guidebooks. An opening has, however, been created in the harbour wall, allowing vessels to enter and anchor in the basin. This harbour is especially important to smaller vessels, as it breaks up the circa 66 Mile long run from Rocella Ionica to Reggio di Calabria.

So on 30.06.2005 John enters the harbour and anchors as the only yacht in the centre of the basin. At approximately 2200 hrs he notices footsteps on deck, and as he climbs into the cockpit, is met by four young men. One of them holds a pistol to his head, and demands money. John hands him about 400€ in cash, which does not satisfy the pirates. As one of them holds him at gunpoint in the cockpit, the other three search his vessel, and, after finding some computer peripherals, demand his notebook. He did not bring it on the voyage, however, and they have to settle for his CD collection and other valuables.

He presumes the worst as he notices them fumbling with a role of masking tape to bind him. In the confusion he manages to jump overboard and dive and swim to shore, where he hides among the rocks of the harbour wall. The pirates obviously feel quite safe and start to search for him. When one of them is only about 10 Meters away, John leaps back into the water and swims to a small, open fishing boat. He slips inside, finds a fishing knife and a sturdy tiller, and waits. About 30 minutes later a fishing boat anchors in the harbour, and he swims over to them. Together they lock up his vessel and head to the Police station, where he spends the night before heading on to Reggio di Calabria in the morning.

We have since heard of several more incidents, in which yachts were harassed in Saline Joniche. On 28.06. 2005 and 05.07.2005 yachts had to fend off a small boat with 3 to 4 young males aboard. At times they claimed to be the Harbour authority and demanded mooring fees, in the other incident they simply demanded money in a very aggressive manner. Fortunately, both crews managed to either chase them off by alerting the police, or leaving the harbour as they were approached late at night by the dinghy.

Vessels transiting the Strait of Messina should certainly avoid the port of Saline Joniche, or enter only in groups.

30 October, 2005
EL SALVADOR - Yacht Boarded, Attempted Robbery

Source: IMB Piracy Reporting Centre Weekly Piracy Report

Four armed robbers boarded a yacht at anchor at Bahia del sol, El Salvador on 30 October 2005. They broke in to skipper’s cabin. Alarm was raised and robbers jumped into water leaving behind two machetes. An accomplice waiting in a fishing boat picked them up. Robbers then fired gun shots at the yacht before leaving the scene. No injuries to crew. Incident reported to authorities who began patrolling the anchorage during night.