What tactics are you planning to use for transiting “Pirate Alley?”

We’ve just spent a most delightful week in and around Salalah, Oman, and are on the move again. Salalah has been a wonderful introduction to the Middle East – beautiful sights, friendly and helpful people, and excellent food. We explored ancient tombs, rugged mountains, 15th century ruins and saw more camels than one could imagine. We wish we could have spent more time, but we don’t want to miss the favorable conditions at this time of year for moving north up the Red Sea. We’ll get a report out about our visit when we’re able.

This passage will take us through the Gulf of Aden, labeled by some as “Pirate Alley.” From a security standpoint, this is probably the piece of water that cruising sailors fear the most. That said, with more Coalition Forces activity in the area, combined with a step up in patrols by the Yemeni Coast Guard, it appears to be much safer than in days past.

We’re on the trailing edge of this year’s cruising fleet and have heard no reports of any attacks or attempted attacks on cruising yachts preceding us. Even in years past, the odds of facing off with pirates has been less than 1%. We’re willing to face the odds and move on, albeit with a bit more caution than we usually exercise on passage.

Convoy or alone – that has been the question. Many of the yachts before us have formed convoys for the passage, while others have gone alone. Statistically, in past years boats in convoys have fared no better or worse than yachts going it alone. There is no doubt that from an emotional standpoint, it is much nicer to have others around, but it definitely makes the trip more slow and difficult, and in the past, pirates have had no qualms about robbing five or six boats in one go.

The negatives of a convoy, for us anyway, outweigh the positives. We would have been happy to convoy with some yachts of similar speed capabilities if there were some. Most of the convoys are using a speed of advance of 5 to 5.5 knots, and sailing in close formation, which at night without nav lights can be a challenge. We expect to maintain a speed of advance of 7.5 to 9 knots with liberal use of the engine. This will reduce our time in “Pirate Alley” from five days to three and change, for the 600 nautical mile trip. I liken it to walking across the freeway. The longer the time you spend in the middle, the greater your exposure to getting whacked. We feel the ability to move fast and change course quickly may be an advantage.

Our strategy is to remain 15 to 20 miles off the Yemeni coast, maintain a constant radar and visual watch, and steer to avoid, or speed up to remain clear of any small vessels that may have a close point of approach. We will avoid any radio chatter and position reporting, and we’ll run with no navigation lights at night.

Merima and I will be back to a “two-handed” crew for the remainder of the trip to the Med and have spent some time preparing in the event that we are approached by a boat that exhibits hostile intentions. We have set a procedure for making Pan Pan or Mayday calls, and have telephone numbers handy for the U.S. 5th Fleet, Yemeni Coast Guard, the French Navy and the Anti Piracy HELPLINE.

At the end of the day, these people who are labeled as “Pirates” are usually no more than poor fishermen who perceive cruising yachts as floating pots of gold, and are hoping to supplement their income by a bit of assertive begging. Even in the past, where robberies have occurred, we’ve not heard of any yachties being physically injured. Should we determine that an armed boarding is imminent, our intention is to call a Mayday, set off the EPIRB, launch flares, attempt to remain calm and then surrender. There is nothing aboard that cannot be replaced, except our lives.

We’ll be departing shortly and plan to get a report off daily to let you know how we go.

Here are the emergency contact details as given to me by fellow cruisers. I cannot confirm that they are current or accurate, as I never made any contact with anyone.

  • US 5th Fleet Headquarters, Bahrain, Force Watch Officer:
    phone +973 1785 3283, email CUSNC.FWO@me.navy.mil
  • IMB Piracy Reporting Center, Kuala Lumpur:
    phone +60 3 2078 5763
  • 24 hour Anti Piracy HELPLINE:
    phone +60 3 2031 0014, email IMBKL@icc.ccs.org
  • Yemeni Coast Guard:
    phone +967 1562 402
  • Djibouti Port Authority:
    phone +253 35 23 31 or +253 35 61 87, email port@intnet.dj
  • French Navy in Djibouti:
    phone +253 813031
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