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Old 03-14-2005, 05:13 PM   #1
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Default Red Sea piracy attack - first-hand report.

<font color="blue">[b]Submitted by Richard Donaldson-Alves [/b</font id="blue">]- Thank you!

Here is a 1st hand account of pirate attack on to yachts making the annual trek to the Med via the Red Sea from S.E. Asia. It took place only 30 miles off the coast of Yemen at 13° 28'North x 48° 07 East on 8 March 5pm local.



Net Controller

Maritime Mobile Net, SE Asia.

<hr noshade size="1">

<font color="red">Pirate Attack Reported to Yemen Officials</font id="red">

"On 8 March 2005, two sailing yachts, Mahdi & Gandalf, were moving SW 30 miles off the coast of Yemen proceeding to the port of Aden from Salalah, Oman.

At about 0900 two outboard powered boats, about 25 feet long with 3 men in each one, passed off our stern moving south at about 25 knots. An hour or two later they returned, one coming quite close and looking us over carefully. The second boat passed our bows but quite a ways away. These boats were obviously not engaged in a normal activity such as fishing, etc. At that time we were south of Al Mukalla, Yemen. The area around Al Mukalla is well documented as being a piracy problem area and we started watching carefully for anything out of the ordinary.

At about 1600 we observed two different boats approaching us head on from the SW. These boats were 25-30 feet long, had higher freeboard and diesel powered. They were coming very fast directly at us. There were 4 men in each boat. The boats separated at about 200 yards, one boat ahead of the other, coming down Mahdi’s port side and firing into the cockpit. The other boat was firing an automatic weapon at both Gandalf and Mahdi from ahead, more at Gandalf. <font color="red">These guys were shooting directly at the cockpits, and obviously intended to kill us.</font id="red">

The first boat swung around behind Mahdi’s stern to come up and board us. At that point I, Rod Nowlin aboard Mahdi and armed with a 12 gage shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot, started shooting into their boat. I forced them to keep their heads down so that they could not shoot at us. I am not sure I hit anyone at that point although I could see the driver of the boat crouched down behind a steering console. After firing 3 shots at them their engine started to smoke and I swung around to shoot at the boat ahead. At that point, I saw Jay Barry on Gandalf ram that boat amidships almost cutting it in two and turning it almost completely over. I turned back around to shoot again at the boat behind Mahdi and that is when they turned away from Mahdi and were heading toward the stern of Gandalf. Gandalf was beside us, about 100 feet away. The bow of the pirate’s boat came right up against Gandalf’s stern and two men stood up on the bow to board Gandalf. That was a serious and probably fateful error on their part. I shot both of them. That boat then veered away and I shot the driver, although I am not sure of the outcome because they were farther away and I did not knock him down like the other two.

Mahdi and Gandalf kept going at full speed to put as much distance between the pirates and us as possible. As soon as we were out of rifle range we looked back and both boats were drifting and appeared to be disabled.

If Jay on Gandalf had not had the presence of mind to veer over into one boat and ram it, the outcome of this attack would have been totally different. All they needed to do was stand off a ways and shoot us to pieces with automatic weapons. We were extremely lucky.

We broadcast Mayday calls on all VHF and HF radio frequencies, including two HF emergency frequencies supplied by the US Coast Guard a few days before. The Coalition Forces in the area were supposed to be monitoring these frequencies. There was no response except from a commercial ship in the area on VHF 16 who approached and observed the disabled pirates for a bit, then sailed along side of us for 2-4 hours until dark to make sure we would be all right.

<font color="red">The pirates were well organized and well armed. There were at least 4 boats involved. They had set up a picket line out from the Yemen coast probably at least for 50-75 miles, so if you transited the area during the day they wouldn’t miss you. The two boats that attacked us appeared to have come from the south.</font id="red">

There has been speculation in the past that this ongoing piracy problem off the Yemen coast was being carried out by Somali pirates. Given the number, type of boats involved, and the direction the spotter boats came from, this does not appear to be correct in this case. This problem is getting worse and the pirate attacks are getting deadly. One could only expect that the Yemen Government will take more direct action. At the very least, allow yachts to group in Salalah, Oman and at some point on the NW Yemen coast to request an escort along the Yemen coast."

Rodney J. Nowlin, USN Retired

S/V Mahdi

March 11, 2005
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Old 03-14-2005, 06:14 PM   #2
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The above report is about what cruiser's fear the most. We cannot start to imagine what these cruisers experienced - all our thoughts are with them. The MOST important thing is that they survived the horrific ordeal and are safe and unharmed.

The report demonstrates the necessity of sailing in convoys when transiting known dangerous areas - even then, attacks are occuring.

Fortunately, there are very few areas around the world with the same level of danger as in the Red Sea near Yemen and Somalia. Unfortunately, THIS is the route that circumnavigating yachts take from SE Asia to enter the Med each year. SAIL IN AS LARGE A FLEET AS POSSIBLE in these regions.

The alternate route via the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town) is also vey interesting and rewarding. Below are a couple of website links to assist any cruisers who may wish to consider this alternative:




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Old 03-15-2005, 11:36 AM   #3
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May I ask what flag these two vessels were registered under?

I've been researching piracy in the Malaca Straits, but have found that yachts are rarely bothered for the simple reason that yachts rarely carry much of real value. The fairly frequent pirate attacks in the Malaca straits are usually against cargo ships, and tug boats. The crew is then ransomed, the ship owners having the cash to pay the ransom.

I'm wondering why these pirates would come in shooting to kill. Could it possibly be a terrorist attack? What could they get from a sailing yacht that would be worth the logistics of four boats, 12 men (risking their lives) and automatic weapons?
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Old 03-15-2005, 06:45 PM   #4
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Mahdi is US-flagged, and I believe that Gandalf is Australian-flagged.

I am so relieved to know that they survived that attack!

I still believe that firearms have no place on board a cruising yacht, though it made a difference here. Rod, however, makes it clear that it was the pirates' errors that foiled them - getting too close to both boats so that Rod could shoot at them and Gandalf could ram and disable the other one. As he said, the pirates had only to stand clear and keep shooting until they were all dead!

As with other "aids", my fear is that carrying firearms will lull some people into venturing into places that are unsafe rather than avoiding them or taking other evasive efforts. I think that Rod is right that it has become necessary for yachts to proceed in convoy with an escort. How sad that it comes to that!

Considering the problems in that part of the world, I think it's time for yachts to reconsider going up into the Med from the Red Sea. Personally, visiting S. Africa holds more appeal to me, and those yachts still determined to go to the Med could reach it from the West coast of Africa.
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Old 03-16-2005, 11:24 AM   #5
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Thanks Jeanne,

I also got a note from Rod Hall with a link to his website, and info about piracy at: http://www.onpassage.com/Emergency_Medical...ate_attacks.htm

Actually Rod's web page confirmed something which I had found. There are very few piracy attacks against yachts in the Malaca Straits - but it is one of the worst places in the world for attacks against comercial shipping.

The sea's near Yemen appear to be the worst place in the world for attacks against yachts, so I have to re-ask Richards question: Why do sailing yachts go up the Red Sea to the Med? The route is dangerous, the med (if you get there) is expensive, and crowded. My preference would be South Africa.
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