Transiting the Red Sea – a Tough Decision

Published 14 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Sent by Dave Ungless, S/Y Sänna 2, UK Flag.

Safe Haven in Yemen

With the many piracy stories originating from the Gulf of Aden right now, I thought it best to add my own views to try and add some sense of sensibility to what is obviously a tough choice for sailing yachts planning to transit the Red Sea in the forthcoming future.

We are a 15m beefed up and modified Bavaria Ocean 50 with a cruising couple crew of two, and we transited the Red Sea from Turkey to Malaysia earlier this year in 2007/2008.

After a very tough passage through the Bab Al Mandab straights into the Gulf of Aden, we decided to avoid Djibouti due to its close proximity to Somalia and head for Aden in Yemen. And we made a very good call in my opinion. We’ve sailed long and hard in various parts of the world and it would be difficult to find a friendlier and more accommodating race of people than the Yemenis. The port is now clean from oil and there is a huge willingness to help to transit yachts. There are good facilities for supplies and fuel with access to the International Piracy Co-ordination center via local naval and coastguard facilities based in Aden. The officials were friendly and co-operative in most instances.

The harbor is now a safe anchorage and we left Sänna swinging on the anchor for two months under the watchful eye of the highly recommended Omar (he’ll find you) and just about every pirate looking fisherman re-fuelling their vessels just meters away. Nothing was ever lost or touched! “In Yemen, you can be killed over a matter of honor but you will never have anything stolen from your boat”, we were told laughingly by the local Naval Commander. He was sincere in his comments.

We eventually left for Salalah in Oman, stopping in Mukallah for fuel and then heading over to Sri Lanka on the back of the SW Monsoon. We experienced no problems at all but some friends aboard a German Yacht leaving Aden a few days before we actually hit and rammed an unlit boat full of illegal Somalian refugees during the night. It was a traumatic but accidental event.

Nearing Sri Lanka we were consistently approached by evil looking pirates but stocked up on fresh fish, coconuts, and a delicious jelly yogurt in plastic pots. After a dozen or so encounters we were entirely relaxed about their presence and managed to lose our own stock of soggy biscuits purchased en-route in Eritrea.

In my mind, the ports of Sri Lanka, Yemen, Eritrea, and Sudan are entirely safe, with refuge from weather and “pirates”. The Muslim world, in particular, is extremely friendly as it’s part of their culture and heritage. Their gripes are political against other governments, not yachties trying to make their way with the wind. There are virtually no reports of yacht thefts or attacks against crews in the Muslim countries, not like the numerous reports on your site from the Caribbean and South America countries. It just doesn’t happen.

I know since our time in Malaysia, having completed the transit, that there are many yachts in Malaysia and Thailand waiting to make the East to West transit through the same sea areas early in 2009. There are many skippers, crews and cruising couples undecided and uncertain about what to do. The route is the traditional circumnavigation passage and yachts are gathering in the departure points waiting for the NE monsoon to establish. But the transit is possible and yachts are sailing it alone. We did and we know others too. However, the risk is there but it’s a case of lessening the risk as much as possible. But sailing is a high-risk venture anyway?

Dave Ungless

S/Y Sänna 2

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