Pirate Alley: Putting It In Perspective

Pirate Alley. Two words that strike fear into the armchair sailor, apprehension into those who actually sail it, and have the effect of filling my pants out of shear fear when that phrase is uttered. In one podcast I asked a number of rally participants whether they were worried about piracy and none of them admitted that they were. Liars! Push them further and you’ll have them admitting that ‘of course we are worried about the piracy situation, that’s why we are on the rally’.

Let us not forget why we were all on this rally: security, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Still, put that aside, what other considerations go through the mind of a yottie preparing for a trip through these waters?

So, pirates? Please use the comments form at the bottom of the page to let us know whether you think this is a pic of genuine pirates or not, and let us know your reasons why.

There were another two words that were at the forefront of our minds: Lynn Rival. This was the boat that was captured back in November with Paul and Rachel Chandler on board. They have been held captive in Somalia since then. That incident was a very real reminder of the danger yotties put themselves in when undertaking a passage through these waters. I was criticised by many an arm-chair sailor in sailing forums who made statements like “don’t expect sympathy from us when you get caught”, or even worse, “give my regards to the Chandlers”. Nice.

Unbeknown to many of these critics, however, was the fact that almost every single piracy attack has happened to a commercial vessel, hence the military presence of coalition warships. Their patrol in the originally recognised boundries of Pirate Alley has meant that its boundaries, i.e. from Aden to Salalah, had expanded. Piracy attacks were being reported further into the Arabian Sea and out into the Indian Ocean. Throughout our journey up the Yemeni and Omani coast we were constantly aware of regular attacks, sometimes up to four each day. Remember Liz and I overheard one such attack on the VHF so this wasn’t something that happened elsewhere in another world. It was all around us.

Liz looking relaxed and not thinking about pirates

Imagine being one of these pirates: I have read they need take part in only five attacks. The ransom received from these will set him up for life, so the risk of being at sea for months is negligible compared to the long-term gain. According to the British Navy many pirates leave Somalia and are never seen again (secretly many a sailor hopes the Chinese and Russian warships are blowing the pirates out the water!). Pirates are after the big ships but if they are unsuccessful they’ll begin to run out of supplies and will therefore have no hesitation in taking on a sail boat or fishing boat in order to replenish their stocks of food and water. It has been known for the pirates to kill fishermen and sink their boats after doing this.

Real men sail the Gulf of Aden

Standing: Graham (Eeyore), Gibson (Mistral), Tony (Full Flight), Jamie (Esper), Nadeesh (Mistral), Jean Claude (Anthea), Nigel (Eeyore),  Armin (Slamat), Morris (Cobble), Roger (Storm Dodger), Robbie (Rhumb Do), Jordon (Storm Dodger), Anthony (Divanty), Cillian (Cobble), Marco (Easy and Free), Terry (Roam II). Seated at the front: Dan (Still Dreaming), Michel (Shelter)

The final thing to put in context of sailing Pirate Alley was the difficulty of organising 15 boats, skippered by 15 mavericks, to motor in close proximity for an extended period of time. We had 650 miles of this arduous task ahead of us, within the context of the above-mentioned scenario, so how would we cope? Further strain was put on the rally when, after arriving in Salalah, we were told we would have to continue another 350 miles in convoy because of the extended piracy activity. If I told you that it was the hardest thing I have ever undertaken, that might put it in some kind of perspective.

Rally Women. Harder than the men.

Mary (Still Dreaming), Pilar (hidden, Shelter), Marlene (Anthea), Pat (Full Flight), Debs (Eeyore), Astrid (Storm Dodger), Fiona (Roam II), Div (Divanty), Liz (Esper), Leah (Storm Dodger), Francesca (Easy and Free), Monica (Slamat)

So why do it? Because if we believed everything we read in the papers, was intimidated into not undertaking something because of the risk, or was not realistic about the advantages of sailing in a convoy, we’d never have left home. Sometimes risks have to be taken. In reality very few sail boats are attacked by pirates and we decreased our chances of being one of them by sailing together with the ‘strength in numbers’ advantage a convoy offered.

Yet despite all this, the next 1,000 miles were the hardest thing Liz and I had ever undertaken. We are sure that, if you got an honest answer from the other rally participants, they too would agree that Pirate Alley was a real test of both seamanship and character. See the next post to understand why…

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7 Comments on “Pirate Alley: Putting It In Perspective”

  1. Dude, nice work getting through pirate alley! The going rate for a hijacked ship these days is anywhere between $2 million and $8 million. I’ve just returned from Somalia and you would not believe some of the bling homes that have been built with the proceeds!

    I’ve just moved my life to Nairobi now so next time you guys are anywhere near Somalia or Kenya, give me a shout and the African cocktails will be on me!

    Take care and may the wind be at our back (isn’t that what you sea fairers like to say?!!)

    Happy Sailing guys, take care and stay safe!


  2. Brings it closer to home, I guess. Now all you have to do is come back … will the flotilla stay together, or are you all off in different directions?

    Is the caption to the pic of Liz wrong? She doesn’t look all that relaxed to me.

    By the way, did you go to the archaeological sites near Salalah that I told you about?

  3. It is sometimes as bad for those sitting at home and wondering. We hear all the news, which is always bad because there is no point in publishing the good stuff and automatically think the worst. Thank the Lord you are all out of there, but what about the way back???

  4. The international community has come out in force to condemn and declare war on the Somali fishermen pirates, while discreetly protecting the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fleets from around the world that have been poaching and dumping toxic waste in Somali waters since the fall of the Somali government eighteen years ago.

    In 1991, when the government of Somalia collapsed, foreign interests seized the opportunity to begin looting the country’s food supply and using the country’s unguarded waters as a dumping ground for nuclear and other toxic waste.

    According to the High Seas Task Force (HSTF), there were over 800 IUU fishing vessels in Somali waters at one time in 2005, taking advantage of Somalia’s inability to police and control its own waters and fishing grounds. The IUUs poach an estimated $450 million in seafood from Somali waters annually. In so doing, they steal an invaluable protein source from some of the world’s poorest people and ruin the livelihoods of legitimate fishermen.

    Allegations of the dumping of toxic waste, as well as illegal fishing, have circulated since the early 1990s, but hard evidence emerged when the tsunami of 2004 hit the country. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reported that the tsunami washed rusting containers of toxic waste onto the shores of Puntland, northern Somalia.

    Nick Nuttall, a UNEP spokesman, told Al Jazeera that when the barrels were smashed open by the force of the waves, the containers exposed a “frightening activity” that had been going on for more than a decade. “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there,” he said. “The waste is many different kinds. There is uranium radioactive waste. There is lead, and heavy metals like cadmium and mercury. There is also industrial waste, and there are hospital wastes, chemical wastes—you name it.”

  5. Another ship has been captured – a Russian oil tanker. The Russian Navy are speeding over to assist them, but are unlikely to do anything as they don’t want to harm the crew. All I can say is that I’m glad you’re out of there and safe!

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