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2002 - Piracy Reports

By Sue Richards last modified Jan 21, 2009 12:34 PM

Published: 2009-01-21 12:34:18

29 August, 2002
VENEZUELA - Crew Attacked in Careano, Venezuela

Contributors: Phillip Gibbins, S.V. Vellamo, Puerto la Cruz

On 29 August 2002, Miss P., a Gulfstar 47 was boarded by five armed men in Careano, Venezuela, about 60nm west of Puerto la Cruz. The skipper was pistol whipped with a gun, had his face broken as well as three ribs. The other crew on board was tied up and a blanket thrown over him. The men stole the dinghy and outboard, and ransacked the boat. The US Coast Guard were informed.

29 September, 2002
COLOMBIA - Colombian Incident Should Be Seen in Perspective - an Eyewitness Account.

Contributors: Jim & Katie Coolbaugh s/v Asylum

As the recent incident at Punta Hermosa on the Colombian coast - on September 29th 2002 - has attracted much interest within the sailing community, we are pleased to publish here a report received from Jim and Katie Coolbaugh from the s/v Asylum. She was the second boat to be boarded but the crew managed to fend off an attempt to gain access to their cabin.

We are reporting a violent incident that occurred while en route from Aruba to Cartagena on 29 September 2002. After departing Oranjestad, Aruba, at noon on 21 September, we made an overnight sail to Cabo de la Vela, where we joined two other boats, Morning Dew (a Tayana 37 with two people, Pat and Willy, on board) and Eclipse (a Mason 44 with Tom, a singlehander). From there we made another overnight sail to Bahia Guayraca in the Five Bays region of Colombia. Previous cruisers had reported that both Cabo de la Vela and Guayraca had appeared to be safe, and we found them to be also. We spent 3 nights in Guayraca waiting for the seas to come down, and then made a short sail around the corner to the anchorage at Rodadero. This one was a very busy resort town and we were the objects of much curiosity from locals in pedal boats.

To be able to cross the Rio Magdelena in morning hours, we wanted to leave Rodadero at about midnight and travel to Punta Hermosa to rest before making the last hop to Cartagena. While en route, Morning Dew began to have engine problems, which plagued them for the remainder of the day. A large squall developed on the approach to Punta Hermosa so we waited until it passed since the anchorage area is bounded by an uncharted "breakwater" and can only be entered from the south. We arrived at 1430, anchored about 50 yards from each other (at 10 56.93 N, 75 01.89 W) and planned to depart very early the following morning. Morning Dew worked on their engine, thought it OK, and was going to leave shortly before Asylum and Eclipse.

When we arose at 0300, Morning Dew was still there, having experienced more engine problems. They worked on the engine all Sunday morning so were able to join our plan for an early morning departure (between midnight and 0300).

We (Jim & Katie) on Asylum went to bed at about 1900, locking the cabin doors as we have taken to doing at anchor, and closing the hatches so we didn't have to do the nightly rain dance when the squalls came through. At about 2130 we were awakened from a sound sleep by someone banging and rattling the cabin door and companionway hatch. Jim went partway to the companionway and heard someone shouting "Abre la puerta! Abre la puerta!" ("open the door") and immediately returned to the V-berth for the "Bear Pepper Mace," a super-strong pepper spray we keep by the bed. Katie flipped on the deck light and Jim immediately put out a call to the other 2 boats on the VHF channel we were all monitoring to alert them that we had been boarded, to which only Tom on Eclipse answered.

From the starboard galley port that faces into the cockpit, Jim could see two men. As one of them leaned back from the door, as if to prepare to kick it, Jim fired a burst of pepper spray at him, through the galley port (which was open). With that, the boarders immediately fled the cockpit and left the boat. We could see them climb over the closed life-line gate and board what looked like a 20-ft fishing boat, with outboard, and take off. At that point, we were suffering some serious effects of the pepper spray ourselves, and climbed into the cockpit to use the shower. Tom fired a flare to see where the escaping boat was headed, and then fired a second flare directly at it. The boat continued to speed away to the south. When Morning Dew failed to answer Eclipse's repeated calls on the radio, Tom weighed anchor and headed over toward them. As he approached blowing his horn, Pat and Willy appeared on deck shouting, "Armed robbery!" Eclipse rafted with them, and as soon as we could, we did the same, where we learned their horror story.

The first Pat and Willy knew, the boarders were coming down the ladder into their cabin. The five bandits, armed with three pistols and two shotguns, bound and gagged both of them and proceeded to tear apart the boat. They ripped cabinet doors off, dumped contents, and took virtually everything: sailing electronics; their clothes, passports, boat papers, credit cards, drivers' licenses; the dinghy and engine; kitchen appliances, laptops, and TV; food, etc. They emptied the refrigerator, pouring food over things and throwing eggs.

They tormented and repeatedly threatened Pat and Willy, all the while drinking. The bandits were waving their guns around and one of them discharged--whether by accident or on purpose we don't know--lodging a bullet in the hinged top of the navigation station. They demanded money, but Pat and Willy wisely told them they only had what was in their wallets--that otherwise they used credit cards--and the bandits didn't find their hidden cash. In short, they completely TRASHED the boat. When we arrived, what few contents were left were heaped on the cabin floor or on the counter tops. Broken eggshells and egg goo were everywhere.

With Eclipse, we made haste to help them clean up the mess enough to get underway. We gave them a spare VHF and PFDs, broke up the raft shortly after midnight (Monday morning), and headed out for the last 50 miles to Cartagena. We traveled under power (no wind) in close formation, maintaining no more than 1/4 mile between us all the way, and arrived in Cartagena at about 1030.

During the clean-up process, we attempted to contact the Coast Guard on VHF 16. After many calls, we finally got a response from a very weak Spanish-speaking station who asked what the problem was. We attempted to explain in our poor Spanish, but the signal was too weak to communicate. Eventually the Baranquilla Port Control responded, in English, and asked about the situation. We explained where we were and what had happened and that we would report to the Coast Guard when we arrived in Cartagena. On the way in, we contacted friends already there, via SSB, to alert them to what had happened, and by the time we arrived, the wheels of response were already in motion.

The reception we received upon arriving in Cartagena, from the Club de Pesca and Club Nautico marinas and the other cruisers, was marvellous. The Coast Guard already had been there to get what preliminary information they could, and returned later in the day to talk to both boarded boats. The marina had contacted the check-in agent and informed her of the situation and Morning Dew had no check-in problems, despite their lack of official documents. That afternoon, with the assistance of the agent, we made an official police report. We have all since been re-visited by the senior officers of the Cartagena Coast Guard station who told us this incident is being given very high priority and they are intent on catching the perpetrators. In Cartagena itself, the Coast Guard patrols the harbor regularly.

In conclusion, we think it important to note that the increase in the number of boats taking the coastal route to Cartagena has doubtless created a concomitant increase in "targets of opportunity" for potential thievery. Dinghy thefts and petty thefts during stealthy cockpit visits are not uncommon occurrences in cruising anchorages throughout the Caribbean. While some boats coming to Cartagena have experienced these kinds of problems, many have made the trip without event. What we experienced, however, which we understand is unprecedented here, upped the ante from inconveniencing robbery to life-threatening piracy. In fact, we just learned that the incident has been classified as an "act of piracy," which means that the Colombian Navy/Coast Guard will have a larger role, in concert with the National Police, in resolving the incident. We are very impressed with the Colombian response and with their sincerity in wanting their coast to be safe for cruising yachts. The cruisers in Cartagena are working closely with the authorities to explore what can be done to help ensure cruiser safety in the future. But in the end, we cruisers must be alert, aware, and prepared to take care of ourselves, no matter where we are. Until there is some resolution, we would advise avoiding the Punta Hermosa anchorage.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we wanted to let everyone know how great John Halley at Club Nautico and the staff at the Club de Pesca, here in Cartagena, have been to us and to the people on Morning Dew. In addition, the Coast Guard has been actively pursuing the incident and the local CG station commanders have proposed a meeting with cruisers here in Cartagena to pursue how cruising the coast can be made as safe as possible. They have been extremely receptive to the ideas presented so far and have asked to have a follow-up meeting to discuss the issues further. Moreover, we think it's important to remember (and perhaps point out?) that these types of incidents aren't unique to Colombia. As you well know, shootings have occurred in Venezuela and Honduras in the past year or so; Trinidad was plagued by armed robberies in at least one of the yards recently; and we just learned via Morning Dew's insurance agent that a cruiser in Venezuela was recently boarded and beaten (and still in the hospital). We believe it both unfair and untrue to suggest that Colombia is alone in having these kinds of problems (not that your statement did, but that it's important that we don't give that impression!). We are so far enchanted with Cartagena and its incredibly friendly people. We feel quite comfortable here and wouldn't hesitate to recommend to other cruisers that they come. We are, in fact, working with several friends in the ABCs to help them get here as soon as possible! We intend to be in Cartagena for some time and enjoy this beautiful city and its wonderfully friendly people.

4 October, 2002
SOMALIA - British Yacht "Sara of Hamble" Attacked and Robbed Off South Coast of Somalia

Contributors: John Cossey and Andrina Cossey

The attack took place at 10.30 on Friday 4th October 2002 at 04 40'N 48 34'E about 30 miles off the coast of Somalia, about 40 miles SSE of town of Obbia. Sara was sailing at about 3 knots under main and spinnaker. Two open boats approached at speed. Each was about 8 metres long, white, with inboard engines and each carrying five men. On the side of one boat was painted in large letters AL FIRUNAN. The boats also carried fishing nets and large cans of diesel. The men were quite young and wore coloured tee shirts and trousers The first boat came close on our port side. The men waved, exchanged greetings, asked where we were from, and one said "no problems". We gave them packets of cigarettes and they gave us a small bonito. When the second boat came close one said they were bad men.

The second boat came along our starboard side and three men immediately jumped on board Sara so two men came on board from the first boat. One man from the second boat spoke some English. He asked us what we were doing in Somali waters, had we got problems, had we got an engine. He asked us to start it to show him. He acted like an official but clearly wasn't. He said they wanted us to follow them to the coast or give them money. We gave them $50 we keep in a drawer. Then he asked about the radio and tried to use it to talk to a station in Somalia. I am not sure if he managed to and I cannot remember the frequency he used.

Someone said they had a kalashnikov in the fishing boat. We never saw one. Two men now had big fishing knives and indicated that we had to sit on the deck. Others went below and started bringing out stuff and taking it to one or other of the fishing boats which circled and came back. The second one particularly took no care and damaged our topsides and toe rail. The so-called official took me below and at knife point asked where our money was. It seemed a good idea to give it to him. It was hidden and he saw where I got it from. $680. We hoped this would satisfy them. But they wanted the radios and the cables were cut with a knife. They said they would go after they took the radios but then wanted a solar panel and an outboard motor. They were not unreasonable, they asked what the radar was and when told it was for navigation they left it and the installed GPS. I protested that we could not see at night without a torch so they gave one back and also one pair of binoculars in exchange for a solar panel. Someone was prevented from taking all the tools.

All the men left except the two with knives. They were wearing two of our jackets. They wanted one of us to go with them. We now sat in the cockpit refusing to move. A man from the second boat who spoke a little English said they wanted more money. We said we didn't have any. OK, he said "I don't care I go." He waved at the two men and shouted Kill! Kill! Hack them to pieces! We gave him the last of our money $300. They thought he had more and he kept saying You buy more dollars We protested we couldn't. We had nothing more and eventually after more repetitions of Kill! Kill! they left. They had been on board two hours.

We motored away at 7 knots. We were nearly 800 miles from the nearest available port Salalah, Oman and it took 9 days to reach it early on Monday 14th October. We reported the incident to the police as soon as we arrived. With no radios we could not report before.

Money and equipment stolen from s/v Sara of Hamble:
Total value £4000 ($6000); Dollars; Radio SSB Transceiver; VHF; 2 searchlights; torch; Camera; 2 Walkmans; Minidisk recorder; Piano accordion; Quatro (small guitar); Handheld VHF; TV; Video recorder; Solar panel; Music centre (Sony); Garmin GPS; BCG; 2 masks and snorkels; Shaver; Watch; Computer (Laptop); Briefcase; Outboard 2HP; clothing; Matress and Sleeping bag; Batteries ; 12 cigarette lighters; 2 calculators; Gaff; tools; Box of floppy disks.

12 October, 2002
VENEZUELA - Crew Attacked and Yacht Boarded at Isle Coche, Venezuela

Contributors: Phillip Gibbins, SV Vellamo, Swan 48

At about 2230 local time, on Sat 12 October 2002, the yacht Panacea was boarded at the island of Isle Coche just south of Margarita, Venezuela by 5 armed men wearing ski masks.

They tied the two onboard, took everything, ransacked the boat and as an afterthought while leaving shot the skipper in the knee. He is recovering in a Margarita hospital.

This is the 4th armed boarding (Miss P, Morning Dew, Asylum) in 8 weeks on the north coast of South America.