Brazil, Santos: Solo Sailor boarded by Armed Pirates and Robbed – December 2017

An alarming robbery of a single-handed sailor whilst entering the river to Santos at night.

Published 5 years ago, updated 4 years ago

The Incident

I was sailing solo toward the port of Santos, SP, Brazil. I had to dodge thunderstorms for the past hours and was pretty tired but was looking forward to a nice shower and sleep. It was two in the morning and showers were intermittent.

As I got close to the river’s mouth I notice a fishing boat heading out and then turning toward my direction, it this related? Who knows? I change heading to provide more room as I prefer wider clearance at night. Tens of minutes later I hear behind me the sound of outboards. I turned to look behind, and see two small boats with people on them.

They ram into me from behind and one of the men jumped onto my boat with his handgun and shouts something at me. I do not speak Portuguese. He jumps into the cockpit and puts my hands on my head and put my head on the cockpit’s backrest. In the meantime, his friends are boarding. He’s patting me down to check for the wallet (or gun). I don t have any. They shout at me, they seem pumped up. I keep saying “no falar Portuguese” (‘I do not speak Portuguese’). Maybe the most important words one needs to know in this case.

The lead man is inside the boat, opening everything, looking for stuff I guess. His friends are outside on the deck, I can briefly recognize two rifles and one semi-automatic. It is quite dark and I do not try to see their faces anyway. The lead guy comes back with my tablet and asks how it works. I show him, he doesn’t seem quite interested. Good, most of my navigation charts are there. I keep my head on the seat, they chat between themselves and begin to laugh, tension among them is going down. They even take pictures with what I think at the time is my cell phone.

Finally they leave. One of the guys who stayed in the small boats during the assault calls me “Gringo” in broken English and tells me not to call the Navy on the radio otherwise they’ll come back. His gesture with his rifle is quite unequivocal. Finally, they leave in the darkness, wishing me “bon voyage”. Of course, I do not call the Navy on the radio.

I continue to sail to Santos. I land at the Gate Club and ask the security people there to call for the police. The Policia Militar shows up and takes my account of the story, but the seas are not their jurisdiction and tell me to inquire with the Navy. The next day the Navy tells me to inquire with the Policia Federal. I do not want to stay much longer in this town so I check out and leave the next day. I will try the Policia Federal in another port, if at all. In my opinion, those men were doing a “late Christmas shopping”. I contact my consulates and all direct me toward the Policia Federal.

What I Learnt

My advice to this is that it can happen and you should have a plan if it does.

Mine is do not resist.

I am a sailboat with an auxiliary engine, no match to them. No lies but no help either, not to volunteer any information but answer if they ask (if you understand). Otherwise remain silent. They may be pumped up, or high, or scared ,and there is no need to “antagonize” them further. They want things in your boat and you are in the way, so step aside. They have no or little interest in you and you can be considered expendable. Do not look at their faces as they may be afraid of being recognized if arrested. If you do look, then do not look them in the eyes or worse: stare. They may take this as a threat and become violent, especially if pumped or high.

I am against owning guns on a boat, it would have been useless in this case and they would have left with it. Try not to enter a port at night. I would not suggest to sail at night with no lights but that can be considered an option if not sure about the surroundings (this being said, in a full moon a sailboat will be seen). Once ashore, contact your consulate, they will direct you toward the local authorities. Consulates cannot speed up anything with the local authorities but will help with stolen papers.

About consulates, keep in mind that your country may not have a consul or honorary consul in your area, however for European Union citizens, a consul of another state of the Union will provide the service (chose one whose language you speak). For example, if you are Belgian and you speak Dutch and there is no Belgian consulate turn toward the Dutch one. They will help and transmit the info to the Belgian authorities. If you are a Commonwealth citizen (UK, Canada, Australia, etc…) the same idea applies.

This was not a fun event on my voyage and it has dimmed my mood a bit, but I’m sure it won’t last. It should not make you avoid Brazil as a destination, it is an awesome country with great people (except those five morons, for sure). There are areas to avoid and you’ll have to check with the locals. So far I’ve been told: Porto Alegre, Santos, cul-de-sacs, all the Amazon basin. Be careful in the Nordeste region. Close your boat at night, even if you are on board, especially if you are on board.

For the days after it happened, at sea, I could still see myself putting my hands over my head while looking behind me. That too will pass.


SV Moya

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of or the World Cruising Club.

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