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Piracy: New international safety advice for yacht crews

The World Sailing Federation, in collaboration with the International Maritime Safety Authority, has recently published new safety advice in the event of pirate attacks on the high seas. The update applies to skippers and crews planning a passage through the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni and Somali waters, including the northwest Indian Ocean north of 5°S and west of 60°E.
This is the fifth notice issued by World Sailing (formerly ISAF) on this subject and is based on guidance issued in collaboration with the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA).

As a general rule, the final decision as to whether a vessel enters the Gulf of Aden or other waters where pirates operate is the sole responsibility of the master of that vessel. All vessels entering these areas do so at their own risk. Yacht skippers are advised to read the advice issued by MSCHOA.

Although the number of pirate attacks on merchant shipping in these areas has greatly reduced, piracy continued to be a threat to life and property in the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni and Somali waters (up to 750 miles offshore), particularly for private yachts. Yachts are strongly advised to avoid these areas. The increased use of firearms in recent months indicates an increase in aggression and risk to all seafarers in this area.

The following three points should be noted:

1. Threat – The threat remains unchanged in terms of freedom of movement for pirate action groups (PAGs) in the wider Indian area. The area of high risk remains.

The decrease in the number of successful attacks is due to the increased use of private armed security companies (PASC) in merchant shipping and increased inspections by naval forces.

Yacht skippers should also be aware that there are other areas of high piracy risk, notably the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea and the Gulf of Guinea, to which the general advice given here still applies.

Slow and low yachts are extremely vulnerable to opportunistic attack, hijacking or armed robbery. The general security situation in the High Risk Area (HRA) remains unstable. Many coastal areas of Yemen are subject to maritime military operations by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition. Ships entering Yemeni territorial waters can expect to be attacked by coalition warships.

2. Registration – The MSCHOA liaises with the anti-piracy patrols conducted by multi-nation warships in the area and UKMTO coordinates the management of all merchant ships and yachts in the area. The patrols operate mainly in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin, but can operate anywhere in the area and will monitor and assist yachts as much as possible. However, no guarantee can be given that a yacht will pass safely through these waters and no special escort can be expected.

A yacht that decides to transit despite the risks described should notify UKMTO and MSCHOA of their plans as early as possible alternatively by telephone:

UKMTO (UK Maritime Trade Organisation) (Royal Navy) Email: info@ukmto.org. Tel: +44 2392 222065 (General enquiries)

MSCHOA (EUNAVFOR Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa) E-mail: postmaster@mschoa.org. Tel: +33 298 220 220 / + 33 298 220 170

US flagged vessels may contact NCAGS (Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping) (US Navy) Bahrain, email: ncags_bw@me.navy.mil. Tel+ 973 1785 1023 (Helplines).

3. Attack patterns – Pirates operate from very small boats, which limits their activity to moderate weather conditions. While there are no statistics, it is likely to be difficult to use these small boats in sea state 3 and above, although use in higher sea states cannot be ruled out. Pirate attacks are less likely to occur in darkness, and for this reason experienced yacht skippers try to navigate the area between 47E and 49E in the IRTC during darkness. Even during the day, the visual horizon of a typical pirate is less than five miles; he will see a merchant vessel long before another vessel.

In a typical pirate attack, small open high-speed boats (up to 25 knots) deploy from a mother ship, which is often a pirate-occupied fishing vessel or other open high-speed boat. Be aware that perfectly legitimate tuna fishermen often use similar tactics when fishing. It can be very difficult to distinguish between a real fisherman and a would-be pirate; generally, the crew of a fishing boat has all eyes on their elusive target; on a pirate boat, the “gunmen” may remain hidden.

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