Convoys As Protection: Do They Work?

Published 18 years ago, updated 5 years ago

QUESTION: Is there data indicating a protective effect from convoy formation? I agree with your apparent decision that firearms are not a good idea. Is not a convoy a larger radar target? If we’re all unarmed (and I would essentially insist on this) have we not simply made the pirate’s job easier, albeit the pirate doesn’t know whether we’re armed or not? I’m aware of your interest in long-distance cruising statistics. Is there anything out there to help us on this question, or do we mostly assume that there is safety in numbers?

ANSWER: There is no statistical data as such to prove that sailing in convoy through a dangerous area is safer than sailing on one’s own. However, from my own experience in organizing offshore sailing events, as well as from the information received from sailors who had joined convoys to transit the critical area in the North Indian Ocean, it would appear that there is indeed an element of safety in numbers. In the ARC transatlantic rally, for example, every time there has been a serious emergency, the first offer of help has always come from fellow participants, some of whom were quite close. As far as actual convoys are concerned, although they may provide a larger radar target to would-be pirates, as you point out, I am convinced that pirates would be more likely to attack a yacht on its own than tackle a whole group of them. This was born out during the Millennium Odyssey round the world rally when we had two convoys sail from SE Asia to the Red Sea. On March 2, 2000, while sailing through the Gulf of Aden, the 50 ft British yacht Nori was approached by a vessel in a menacing way intent on attack. The skipper Alan Fieldsend immediately got on the radio to three other yachts in the fleet which were close by, Foxy Lady from Australia, Polly from Germany and Aventurero III from Spain. These three yachts immediately altered course to close with Nori. When the pirate vessel saw that help was at hand it left the scene. The boats had also immediately contacted the French Navy in Djibouti who had been monitoring the progress of the fleet and a helicopter was dispatched to the scene of the incident (12°9’N 45°14’E) just over 100 miles from Djibouti. The helicopter found the pirate vessel already 14 miles away from Nori and getting out of the way as fast as it could. A Navy patrol boat was then sent out to accompany the four boats who were sailing close together and they reached port without further trouble.

Finally, it must be pointed out that a high proportion of attacks on cruising boats are still of an opportunistic nature, usually when a fishing boat comes across – by chance – a yacht sailing on its own. So I would still advise anyone planning to sail through a known risk area not to do it alone. Even if the worst comes to the worst, and you are the unlucky victim, at least you’ll have recourse to immediate support when it’s all over.

Finally, if one looks at bare statistics, offshore cruising is probably still the safest way to travel!

Jimmy Cornell

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