Pirate Waters Anecdote

At the turn of this century I set off on a cruise that would, in effect, circumnavigate Africa.

The most interesting and eventfull leg was my voyage from Turkey, across the Meditteranean to Egypt, down the Suez Canal, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and past the Horn of Africa (Somalia) via the Indian Ocean to the Seychelles.


When I planned this cruise I thought that the chance of a pirate attack was pretty small and anyway back in the year 2000 the pirates in this area only stole your valuables and electronics - they didn't kill or kidnap - they were just un organised opportunistic fishermen. However my wife was working in Paris at the time and she got her secretary to ring up the French Navy in Djibouti who, alarmingly, told her that one out of every three yachts were being attacked by pirates at that time. The second cause for concern was that just before we left Turkey, bound for a midway stop at Aden, we heard that Al Queda had successfully mined the USS Cole in Aden harbour. I immediately bought a large Turkish flag to replace my British ensign figuring a lone yacht in Aden harbour flying a Turkish (muslim nation) flag was much safer than one flying a British ensign. Aden used to be a popular stop for yachts but when we arrived, for a crew change, we were the only yacht in the whole harbour. We left on the third day just after a french yacht came in. We made contact with him again in the Seychelles where he told us that just before he left a third yacht had come in and that one had been attacked by pirates - 1 in 3!


We had 2 suspicious occurences - one was in my opinion a highly likely pirate and the other a definite maybe. The most likely incident was when we were tacking across the main shipping lane at night at the southern end of the Red Sea on my watch. As we passed the red and green lights of the ships coming down the lane towards us, I half consciousaly noted that one ship's lights changed their aspect and it appeared to have changed course in our direction. I thought no more about it and handed over the watch. 3 watches and 6 hours later I came back on watch and the watch keeper informed me that a boat seemed to be following us at a constant distance and her predecessor had mentioned the same to her. Looking round it suddenly occurred to me that it was the same boat that had turned towards us from the shipping lane and I guessed it was following us until we were out of VHF range of the shipping lane. I immediately took all the (white) sails down, turned all our lights off and, putting the engine on maximum revs, headed directly back to the shipping lanes. I was pretty sure it was a pirate stalking us until we were well away from the shipping lanes but as we successfully got away I can't be absolutely sure.


A few days later, in the Gulf of Aden, the watchkeeper called me up with similar suspicions about a stalking boat. We put the radar on and picked up a large merchant man headed East and dropped the sails, gunned the engine and made a course to intercept the merchant man. Again we appeared to lose the stalker.


We had a third, heart stopping, incident when a fast boat came racing towards us, looking just like a boat load of pirates. There was no way we could get away from it and I was pretty resigned to the fact that this time we'd lost. It came right along side but instead of pirates brandishing guns it was local fishermen holding up a turtle to sell to us. You can't imagine how relieved we were. We bought the turtle off them and set it free.