Venezuela Pirate Attack: First Person report from Victims SY Explorer

On Wednesday 13 November SY Explorer, on passage from Trinidad to Puerto La Cruz, was boarded by pirates 5nm from the Venezuelan coastline on approaching the Paria Peninsula. Here, skipper Robert (Bob) Jackson reports on this frightening experience.

Published 10 years ago, updated 5 years ago

The position of the Paria Peninsula where the attack took place

We are a couple Bob (74) the captain, an American, and Hella my mate (71) who is German.  We sail a 44 foot Norseman and are currently based in Trinidad.  We completed a 15-year circumnavigation in 2010.

I sailed to Puerto La Cruz from Trinidad about 20 years ago so I knew the route.   Hella and I had discussed specific responses to an armed attack.

A few days ago the vessel “Joana” and ourselves on the boat “Explorer” cleared out of Trinidad bound for Puerto la Cruz, where I intended to go to get my chain galvanized there is no facility for that service in Trinidad.  Diane and Wade on “Joana” were making the same trip and were looking for one or more boats to “Buddy Boat” with as we are all aware of the danger in the region we would be transiting.

We met the captain, Wade of “Joana”, at least two times before we departed to discuss the route, the precautions and the details of the buddy boating plan.  The details were as follows: we were to sail beam to beam approximately 100 yards apart and it was the obligation of the faster boat to adjust their speed to match that of the slower boat.   I specifically brought up that subject at the time of our meetings, explaining it in detail to the captain of “Joana” and he agreed.  He added to this discussion the fact that if one boat was being attacked the other could ram the pirogue and deter the attack.  We agreed to monitor channels VHF 16 and 71 continuously.

We spent the night in Scotland Bay in Trinidad and left at 7.30 am the next day.  Wade led the way out of the bay but being a bigger boat and faster, gradually pulled ahead of us by a distance of approximately 2 miles.  Since it was so early in the trip we had not yet communicated with “Joana” by VHF.  We were occupied in getting control of our boats in a very sloppy sea created by strong currents.  Prior to leaving Trinidad, we had agreed on a specific route and waypoints, and we hadn’t even reached the first waypoint when we were attacked.  We followed the route as discussed with “Joana” at the meetings.

We were about 10 miles west of the tip of the Paria peninsula and 5 miles offshore at 10.30am in the morning when we were approached by a pirogue with a 75 horsepower motor with five men on board.   They were on us in seconds with drawn revolvers, with one man remaining with their boat.  I was below at the time doing navigation work and had no time at all to arrange for the deterrents that we carry for such an event.  We had hardly cleared the safety of Trinidad waters when the incident occurred.  We were not expecting anything to happen so soon.

At the time of the attack, “Joana” was completely out of sight.  At no time during the attack did I hear anything on the radio from “Joana”.   Our radio was working well but we could not transmit because the pirates had hacked off the microphones to both the VHF and the SSB.  When they did start calling me on the VHF I heard them loud and clear, but that was 15 minutes after the attack and we were already heading back to Trinidad.  The implication from the report that “Joana” put on Noonsite was that there was something wrong with our radio.  That is not true, our radio was working perfectly before the microphones were hacked off.

I started up the companionway and found myself looking down the barrel of a revolver.  I have dragged the rest of the way up by one of the pirates, roughed up, and had my hands tied with a piece of rope which the pirate had cut off my control lines to my mainsheet traveler.  I was pushed down on the aft deck.  I watched Hella sitting in the cockpit being pistol-whipped by one of the pirates which opened up a gash in her forehead and within seconds she was covered with blood.  I attempted to get up to go to her but was pistol-whipped myself, opening up a large piece of skin on the back of my head and was covered with blood as well.  At that point, the pirate took the tail end of the rope my hands were tied with and lashed me to the cleat on the aft deck so I couldn’t move.

Another pirate was trying to remove the gold wedding rings from Hella’s finger.  Hella is a German widow.  It is a German custom that if your husband dies you wear his ring as well as your own.  As his ring was larger it was worn over Hella’s band.  As Hella has gotten older her fingers have swollen and the removal of the rings was nearly impossible.  The pirate brutally pulled and twisted the rings causing great pain.  He then reached over and removed my dive knife which I keep strapped to the binnacle for emergency cutting of foul lines and was preparing to slice off Hella’s finger to remove the rings.  Fortunately, the rings finally came off and Hella kept her finger.

The rest of the pirates at that time were ransacking the boat, stealing money, cameras, binoculars, power tools, cell phones, laptop computer etc., but were convinced that we had more money hidden somewhere than what they found in our wallets.  I was unleashed from the stern cleat and pushed down below where I sat on the navigation seat.  Sign language (these were Venezuelan nationals who spoke no English) was used to indicate that they wanted more money – the one word of English they knew.  A gun barrel was placed to my head, the gun was cocked and the pirate pointed to Hella in the cockpit and drew a finger across his throat.

At that point, one of the pirates stood at the companionway and fired three shots into the interior of the boat.  The bullets lodged in the drawers under the chart table where I was sitting.  Both Hella and I were convinced that they were going to kill us before the left.  However, one of the pirates looked up and saw a coastal freighter heading eastbound that was about to pass about a mile away from us.  Hella stood up and raised her hands to show that she was tied up and was clubbed down for her effort with the butt of a pistol.   I don’t think the coastal freighter saw what was happening, however, the presence of the freighter nearby frightened the pirates and they left as fast as they had come.  That ship probably saved our lives.  All told the attack lasted about half an hour.    I don’t know where the pirates went after they left.

We returned to Trinidad and stopped at the Coast Guard station.  We were treated for our wounds and wrote a report about the attack.    We were treated very well by the Coast Guard who were sympathetic and helpful.  They wanted to take us to the hospital but we refused.

I would never do that trip again and would advise anyone else not to do this either.   We are thankful to be alive.  These pirates were ruthless.

Robert Jackson

SY Explorer

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  1. September 17, 2018 at 2:40 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Captain Bob,
    Thanks for your full report and am so glad you and Hella survived this horible attack.
    The recent news about the conviction and life sentences here in the U.S of the Somali pirates is a step in the right direction.
    The Death penalty was asked for but they only got a life… Oh well.
    Sail safe…
    Frank E

  2. September 17, 2018 at 2:34 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    Anyone who thinks that “more sailboats is better” when in a pirate-threat area is “dead” wrong. I am very surprised that a circumnavigator and experienced sailor made this mistake.

    For over 10 years the government of Venezuela has vilified foreigners which empowers the criminal element to do what they do.

  3. September 17, 2018 at 2:27 AM
    Data Entry3 says:

    This whole incident has deply upset me.
    I am very sorry for the involved in terrible attack and hope that this is the last time I read of such again.

    A couple of months ago a Captain anchored in Isla margarita was killed, this PLUS all the other attacks in Venezuelean waters was clearly not enough to deter further trips to Venezuelean Waters.
    I do not know how much clearer it can get!
    Do not even go near.
    From Trinidad go to Grenada and make a Northerly loop to get to ABC Islands.
    And Re actions trying to stop pirates from attacking, Always assume that they might not work instead of hoping that they will.
    Ideas like trying to ram a speedboat with a 70 horse Engine with a slow sailboat will most likely only result in the speedboat taking avoiding actions.
    If you are crew on a boat with a Captain stubborn enough to risk your Life, jump ship!
    If you can afford a sailboat and leisure around in the Caribbean you can also afford a 1000 dollar Sat Phone. Hide this in your boat for emergencies !

    YOU, YES YOU who still thinking about going into the minefield. DONT!
    It could be your Death we will be Reading about next!

    Joe Cool
    SY Joshua