Cape Verdes: First-Hand Report on Raid and Assault on Yacht
While en route from Gambia to Grenada in April of this year, the yacht Ivalu had to make an emergency detour to Praia in the Cape Verde Islands. On their first night at anchor the yacht was boarded and the crew assaulted at knife point and robbed. Skipper Peter Finkbeiner gives his account of the armed robbery and the post-incident reaction by local police.
Published 2 years ago
On Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 we left Gambia for Grenada and the Caribbean.
The next day we noticed the loss of about 100 liters of drinking water (one of the crew members left the tap on the sink open, but the pressurized water pump also had a failure and the pump started again unnoticed and pumped drinking water into the bilge).
We decided to continue sailing because we had more than enough water stored for the crossing.
Spanish crew member Sergio’s seasickness worsened as the morning progressed. He kept throwing up and couldn’t eat anything.
Edi (British national) and I sat in the cockpit around noon, cruising through the water at 6 – 7 knots, when we suddenly heard a loud rumble and splash. Our life raft had inexplicably fallen into the water with the entire railing bracket. A short time later, triggered by the line attached to the ship, it unfolded and due to the boat’s speed was pulled underwater until the connecting line broke.
On the same morning we found that, despite taking antibiotics, the inflammation on Edi’s foot was getting worse.
Changing Course for Cape Verde
After a short deliberation, we decided to change course in the direction of Cape Verde.
On Sunday, April 18th, around 1 p.m., we dropped anchor in the port of Praia. We were in the middle of the bay, at least 300 meters from the shore.
Together we pumped up the dinghy and lowered it into the water. Edi had informed a friend who lives near Praia about his inflammation through Iridium. A short time after our arrival, the maritime police came with a speedboat and Edi got taken to hospital.
The Maritime Police instructed us to always leave one person on board for safety reasons. So Sergio stayed on board and I drove the dinghy to the fishing port as instructed by the police. A pushy local wanted to guide me, however, I decided to tie the dinghy up elsewhere. When I went ashore armed with all of our documents, I was followed by this intrusive person who was desperate to offer me his services. First I went to the ATM to withdraw some money in the local currency, then I got into a taxi to go to clear in. Only when I was sitting in the taxi did the intrusive person leave me alone.
After clearing in, I was instructed to go to immigration the next day to have our passports stamped. When I got back to my dinghy in the late afternoon, the outboard didn’t want to start until I discovered that the red key was missing. I immediately suspected that the intrusive person had taken this away. I was able to improvise and start the engine to drive back to Ivalu. A short time later Edi was brought back by the Maritima Police.
Sergio was recovering noticeably from his seasickness, but we were all dog tired and after a beer we went to bed around 10 p.m. and fell asleep. Edi and Sergio slept in the bow while I slept in the aft cabin. The companionway was open, only the mosquito net was closed.
Armed Boarding and Robbery
Suddenly I was woken from deep sleep. Three dark-skinned, obviously locals, stood in my cabin and attacked me. I was still so sleepy that at first I thought I was still in Lamin, Gambia. So I started shouting for help, thinking that my friends from Lamin could hear me.
Because I also defended myself at first, I was stabbed with a knife in the left hand and a small cut on the ball of the hand. I quickly realized where I was and that I had no chance against three young men armed with knives. After I was hit twice in the face with the fist and the flat of the hand, I gave up all resistance. I was pulled out of bed and my hands and feet were tied with a thin line. Then a tea towel was tied around my mouth.
Overall, everything was dark. The only light source was the display of a cell phone, which one of the perpetrators had in hand and illuminated the cabin.
After I was handcuffed, the perpetrators helped themselves to our belongings. There was my computer bag with all the USB sticks and hard drives on which all my data was saved. There was also a CD drive in the bag. Both of my wallets were emptied. One was about 400 euros, the other was the local money that I had pulled from the machine that afternoon, about 5000 escudos, which is about 50 euros. Fortunately, they threw my first wallet, which contained all of my documents and credit cards, on the floor and only took the other wallet with them. They even opened my closet and took my leather jacket away. Wristwatches and plastic jewelry were also taken away.
Then one of the perpetrators came with my cell phone, which had been lying on the card table to recharge, put the knife to my neck and asked me to unlock it by entering the pin.
A little later I was asked to hand over the key to the dinghy motor. We took it on board for security reasons and had secured it with a padlock.
I could observe the perpetrators disembark and drive off with my dinghy. After I was able to free myself from my ankle cuffs, I went to the front to see Edi and Sergio, hoping that they were still alive. I found the two of them, fortunately alive and obviously unharmed, lying in their beds. Both hands and feet were tied with tape and their mouths were taped shut. I got a pair of scissors and we were able to free each other from our bonds. Overjoyed that we were all still alive, we fell into each other’s arms.
We were able to switch on the interior lighting and called on VHF channel 16 for the maritime police and generally for help.
Initial Police Response
A short time later, estimated around 10 minutes, we saw the police boat pulling out of the fishing port. The blue light was clearly visible. However, instead of going to us, the speedboat drove along the shore, stopped, and then drove in our direction after a short time. We saw the reason for this, because they had my dinghy, almost without air, on a leash and brought it to our boat.
In retrospect, I wonder how the police knew where my dinghy was? The only explanation I have is that the police officers must have observed the attack, possibly also through cameras that are available throughout the port area. None of the policemen wanted to come on board with us. Edi, who speaks Portuguese, shouted and explained to the police what had happened to us.
Then Edi remembered that his cell phone had a function called “find my cellphone”. He asked the police if he could get access to a computer from which he could find the location of his cell phone. The police answered the question in the affirmative and took Edi ashore in the police boat.
In the meantime, Sergio and I discovered what items had been stolen from us. The perpetrators served themselves in the ship like in a supermarket and took all valuables with them.
An hour or two later Edi was brought back by the Maritime Police. He explained to us that he was taken to the criminal investigation building where he could log into a computer. He could then make out the exact location of his cell phone. Together with the officers, he drove to the specified location in a civilian pickup. Apparently they had a mobile device with them that picked up the signal from the stolen cell phone. They drove to this place, a hill just opposite the port. The signal of the located cell phone became clear and was the loudest when they drove past the front door of the house in question. After the front door the signal became weaker again. This process was repeated with the same result.
For safety reasons, Edi was then brought back to the boat leaving the police to do their job. He was told that we would be picked up in the morning at 7.30 a.m. to make our statements to the police. We assumed that with this information, namely the exact location of the prey, we would get our property back quickly.
Making our Reports
Despite being exhausted, we couldn’t sleep and the police boat arrived punctually at 7.30 a.m. to pick us up. Sergio stayed on board for safety, while Edi and I were first taken to the criminal investigation department.
After a long wait, we were driven to another police station, where an officer made two reports, one for Edi and one for me. The quality of these logs is more than ridiculous. As a retired German police officer who worked in the investigation service, I can allow myself to make such a judgment.
In the protocol, for example, it says that I, Peter Finkbeiner, would accuse a specific person, named by name, of having committed this crime. I was told that this person was known for similar crimes and was recently released from prison, where he was serving a four-year prison term. It is the person who lives in the house from which the telephone signal came.
After we were brought back to the criminal investigation department with our protocols, the chief investigator named Roberto introduced himself to us. Roberto speaks good English. When we asked what had happened so far, he found only evasive answers. Without the public prosecutor’s order, he could not do anything. He can only be informed of the incident when the said logs have been made, because they would first have to have a processing number. They could only enter a house with the search warrant. So nothing happened until then.
The next day we were picked up by Roberto. He drove us to the public prosecutor’s office, but our case was not yet known or registered. Then Roberto showed us the so-called African market and jokingly said that our items might also be sold there.
Waiting for Police Action
In the afternoon I bought a new cell phone with a local SIM card. We were able to contact our families via cell phone and also find out that the perpetrators wanted to log into our bank accounts with the stolen cell phones and computers. Fortunately, on the same day I was able to find out that this had failed in my case and that the stolen cell phone was blocked by my bank after three unsuccessful attempts. Edi and Sergio remained uncertain about this for many days because their financial institutions gave them no information.
The next day and the day after that nothing happened either, despite all of Roberto’s polite promises. In the meantime we realized that we will probably never get our items back. Roberto even reported that the property had since been searched after they were voluntarily allowed inside by the homeowner. Of course, by this point the loot was gone.
When I asked about forensics, Roberto said it was a good idea and came on board three days after the incident with forensic experts who of course found that the ship had meanwhile been tidied up and cleaned. When asked about the many cameras used by the police and the port authority, Roberto answered that nothing could be seen on the police cameras and that he had no access to the cameras installed by the port authority.
A nearby gas station is also equipped with cameras and one of them is aimed at the spot where our dinghy was found by the Maritime Police. This clue, too, was ineffective.
Warning other Boats
On April 23rd, 2021 we saw a friend’s catamaran, which anchored exactly where we were attacked. After the attack we had moved to the fishing port, where we were more or less safe.
We warned the skipper of the catamaran, who then went alongside us. The next day Edi decided to switch to this catamaran because it was going to Dakar. Sergio and I made our way to Mindelo on April 24th, 2021, where we arrived on the morning of April 26th, 2021.
Now Sergio also bought a new cell phone and was able to use it to log into his e-mail account. He discovered that the perpetrators had written emails under his account. He found these mails in the folder “Sent Items”. Based on these emails, we were able to determine that the perpetrators had obviously ordered a car from France, worth 12,000 euros, which is to be sent in a container to Praia. In addition, the perpetrators identified themselves to the suppliers with the photos of their identification documents. Sergio, who still had no access to his accounts, was justifiably concerned that the perpetrators had gotten his money to buy the said car.
With this new knowledge, we filed a new complaint in Mindelo. To this day, however, we do not know anything about the course of the new procedure. Only Sergio is now fairly certain that his bank accounts have remained untouched.
Home Port: Kiel / Germany
Noonsite has not independently verified this information.
Note: Noonsite’s security section for Cape Verdes has for many years recommended that yachts avoid Praia and visit Sao Vicente instead, due to a long history of security incidents against boats in this harbor.
Related to following destinations: Cape Verdes, Gambia, Mindelo (Sao Vicente), Northern (Barlavento) Group, Praia (Santiago), Southern(Sotavento) Group