Unpleasant Encounters In The Indian Ocean

Published 16 years ago, updated 5 years ago

To those who are preparing to cross the Indian Ocean, be careful. Here is the story of our unpleasant encounters.

31 July 2005 We left Noumea on our yacht SAPAJOU to make our way to France via the Torres Strait, Malacca, Thailand, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

29 January 2006 We left Nai Harn, Thailand bound for Sri Lanka.

7 February 2006. N05°52’ / E080°28

Light winds. Close to Sri Lanka, we passed several fishing boats who asked for cigarettes, t-shirts, but in a friendly, smiling fashion. We replied in the same way while indicating we didn’t, unfortunately, have anything to give them.

About 3 p.m. a vessel about 15 metres long turned off its course and hit us on the starboard side. It went astern of us and then came along our port side a couple of metres off while its crew asked for cigarettes, alcohol, and t-shirts. It was much more aggressive than the previous requests. I replied politely that we didn’t smoke while my wife looked for some t-shirts to give them. They continued to insist and then asked me if I had any weapons on board. All this passed very quickly. Suddenly the vessel came alongside and hit the side of SAPAJOU in several places. Several men attempted to come on board and I had to prevent them by blocking them with my body while they asked to see my wife who was «surely very pretty ».

« Get in our boat, » one of them asked. I tried to stop various hands taking things off the deck of our yacht. I started to get angry while the boat continued to hit Sapajou. Finally, my wife contacted the Galle authorities by VHF and explained the situation. We informed the vessel that the Sri Lankan navy was on its way which made them pull away, for a moment I thought they were going to ram us astern but after 10 minutes they gave up.

After an hour the Sri Lankan navy arrived and escorted us into Galle harbour. We spent the night anchored outside the port and the following day the authorities came onboard to compile a report. We didn’t want to make an official complaint and we asked them not to pursue our would-be assailants, as the damage to the yacht was minimal. However, on the insistence of the officer who had sent the navy to our rescue, we gave him the registration number of the yacht. Soon after we weighed anchor and left.

Night of 8- 9 February 2006.

Bad weather conditions, a lot of rain and cloud. Poor visibility. We kept a radar watch but impossible to detect a ship approaching. We overheard a conversation between a yacht we knew and a cargo ship which implied a small unlit vessel was circling the yacht. Why? We were rather worried.

9 February 2006 around 8 a.m. N06°05 / E78°50

Light wind. My wife suddenly saw 2 vessels pursuing us at full speed. We put on the engine and changed course. They changed course also. No doubt, they were following us. As they came closer we saw 12 to 15 men in each boat. My wife contacted by VHF a cargo ship we could see and explained the situation; the ship slowed down in order to afford us some protection. Meanwhile, the two vessels continued to follow us. I got out my gun, threw a bottle into the sea and fired at it to show we were armed. Soon after they stopped chasing us but followed us at a distance for about an hour.

I am sure they wanted to avenge their friends who no doubt had been detained by the Sri Lankan navy following our information.

14 February 2006. N07°04 / E07°55

After a brief stopover, we left ULIGAMU in the Maldives. The local inhabitants were friendly, the island beautiful. The authorities are present on the island and customs and immigration are very organised.

20 February 2006, N12°31 / E062°35

Since yesterday we have seen various vessels on the horizon, but none changed course. Around 2.30 p.m. we saw a boat following a course parallel to ours. Suddenly it changed course and went full speed on a collision course with us. I put the engine on and got my weapons ready just in case… My wife tried to contact the boat by VHF to ask what its intentions were. No reply. In order to avoid a collision, I steered 60° to port and put the motor on full speed. The boat passed some 20 metres to starboard. I immediately threw a bottle into the sea and shot at it. Then we overheard a brief VHF conversation in broken English between a certain «GURU» and a «SABA ».

« Leave them. They are armed. Let them go home, »

The boat continued on its way. We watched it until it disappeared over the horizon. It was about 30 metres long, flying an Indian flag, very new, well maintained with plenty of antennas. What did it want from us? Why didn’t its reply on the radio?

3 March 2006 We arrived in Djibouti without further incident. We found out from other yachts anchored there that many had had similar encounters.

In conclusion, I think one must be very prudent in the Indian Ocean and I’d advise other people where possible to travel in convoy.

Jean-Claude TRANAPE

Captain of S.V. SAPAJOU

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