The Gambia: Beware of Pirates Near Banjul

Caution, pirates might try to board your vessel when approaching the deep water buoy outside the port of Banjul, The Gambia.

Published 13 years ago, updated 5 years ago

On a sunny clear mid-November day in 2009, we departed Banjul, The Gambia at 0900 and sailed the shipping channel to the deep water buoy that many vessels use as a way-point (approximately 13.34 degrees North and 016.44 degrees West) to avoid the surrounding shallow reefs. Just after passing the buoy we noticed several local fishing boats (pirogues) fishing the shallow waters nearby.

One open fiberglass boat with five Africans in it came zooming our way. The white boat did not have any signage, flags, horns, life-jackets, radios, identification numbers, or instruments. The boat was about 18 feet long and had two small outboard motors on it, only one engine was operational. The five men were waving and shouting at us to stop or slow down. None of the men had shoes, several did not have shirts, and the apparent leader was wearing what looked to be a soiled World War I uniform with homemade epaulettes. The word “CUSTOMS” was handwritten on the uniform’s pocket by using a magic marker. The leader of the group kept shouting, “We are Senegalese Customs, stop your engine and slow the boat down.” We were only under sail at the time, doing 5 to 6 knots and heading up into 2 to 3-foot chop.

We were immediately suspicious of the approaching boat and the intentions of the men on board. We have never experienced or heard of Customs officials boarding private yachts while at sea. We yelled back, “We are in The Gambia waters, not Senegal waters…we are not running our engine! We aren’t coming from or going to Senegal! We are sailing!”

The back and forth yelling continued for a minute or two. The driver in the back of the powerboat was gunning the small outboard engine to keep pace with our 42-foot mono-hull sailboat. The apparent leader of the pack and the bowman kept yelling at us to turn off our engine. One of the Africans seated in the boat had an antique Tommy gun (or a series of pipes welded together to look like a Tommy gun) in his lap. We are not sure it was a gun. He only raised the object in his lap when he stood up to reposition himself in the boat.

The young men were upset that we were not following their directions. And, despite our warnings to stay away, the powerboat was driven within a foot of our starb’d beam and the large well built bowman grabbed our toe-rail. One of our crew, Jim, pushed him away and the pirate almost fell into the water. Their boat brushed the side of our vessel and left a small amount of paint.

To avoid further attempted boardings we started our engine and my wife Karen pointed the bow into the building sea. We sped away at full throttle as the sea thugs continued to yell at us. Their second attempt to board our vessel was deterred by the rough seas. They followed in our wake for a minute or two, then turned around and headed in the direction of Banjul, The Gambia. Nobody was injured during the incident.

Jason Trautz

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