Danish sailors seized in Indian Ocean had anti-piracy plan

Danish sailors seized in Indian Ocean had anti-piracy plan

Danish family wrote on a travel blog days before their capture that they were in daily contact with anti-piracy forces

A Danish family whose boat was seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean wrote on a travel blog that they were in daily contact with anti-piracy forces and had prepared a “piracy plan” in case of attack.

The family – a couple with three teenage children, aged 12 to 16 – and two adult crew members, also Danes, were captured on Thursday by pirates after sending a distress signal, the Danish government said.

Blogposts chronicling the Danes’ round-the-world journey showed they entered the area well aware that an American yacht had been hijacked by pirates days earlier but comforted by the presence of counter-piracy forces.

“Of course, we talked quite a lot about it but this is far over thousands of kilometres away and the Arabian Sea that we sail in is the size of Europe,” the family said in a blog entry dated 20 February.

Two days later, four Americans were killed by their Somali captors. It is unclear whether the Danish family knew about the deaths. Their last post, on 23 February – a day before the hijacking – said their journey had been uneventful and that “we have NOT been boarded by pirates”.

The blog identified the family as Jan Quist Johansen, his wife, Birgit Marie Johansen, their sons, Rune and Hjalte, and their daughter, Naja. They are from Kalundborg.

The chairman of the Kalundborg yacht club, Ole Meridin Petersen, called them “experienced sailors” and said they had planned to enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez canal from the Red Sea. That route would take the family through the Gulf of Aden, one of the most dangerous waterways in the world for piracy.

“They expected to be home in August,” Meridin Petersen said.

Most hostages captured in the pirate-infested waters off east Africa are professional sailors. Pirates rarely capture families and children, but a three-year-old boy was aboard a French yacht captured in 2009. His father was killed in the rescue operation by French navy commandos. Two pirates were killed and four French citizens were freed, including the child.

Somali pirates have extended their range east and south after increased naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. They hold more than 660 hostages and some 30 vessels. If a ship’s owner is unable to pay the multimillion-dollar ransoms the pirates demand, they may keep it and use the boat to stalk other vessels until they run out of supplies or break down.

In the blog, family members wrote that they felt reassured as they spoted overflights by counter-piracy patrol planes and had daily contact with naval authorities. “It is reassuring that they look after us,” the 20 February post said.

A day earlier, the family blogged that they had drawn up “a piracy plan for who does what if we are attacked”. They were sending daily position and status updates to the Royal Navy’s UK Maritime Trade Operations, which acts as a liaison for ships sailing through waters threatened by pirates.

Wing Commander Paddy O’Kennedy, of the EU’s anti-piracy force, said the Johansens had been reporting their position each day via email since 17 February.

Denmark’s foreign ministry advised citizens against sailing in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea and the north-western Indian Ocean. Officials said they had confirmed the Danish boat had been seized by pirates and that they were doing everything in their power to help the family.

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