October 14, 2010
Despite a large navy presence in the Gulf of Aden pirates still abound and attack ships daily. Below is an account of my experience of the problem in June 2009.
During a voyage on a multi-purpose vessel, we had to transit the Gulf of Aden on our way from Singapore to Suez. This was a particularly worrying time for all on board, especially as our sister ship had been attacked the previous month and narrowly avoided being hi-jacked. Another problem which served to further compound our worries was the fact that only one of our two engines was working properly. We would only be able to use the other in an emergency and even then at reduced power. Our maximum speed would then only be 14.0 Kts, instead of 17.5 and only 11.0 if the second engine gave up the ghost.
Long before we arrived at the danger zone (a corridor 450 miles long) we started on our anti piracy measures which included tying many floating objects at the break of the focsle. These were to drop into the water to discourage pirates from approaching, which was a measure successfully applied previously by our sister ship We also rigged many hoses along the deck pointing down to potential boarding places. A good supply of rocket parachute flares were on hand as the first line of defence. Drills were held and every one made familiar with the signals and what to do in case of an attack.
Tension mounted on the ship as we approached the area and anti piracy watches were started. Daily we were getting reports of one or two ships being attacked so the threat was very real. Unlike pirates of yesteryear content to rob ships and make off with the booty (The big prize in recent years had been the cash from the masters safe) these people would be hi-jacking the ship and holding the crew hostage for months till a ransom was paid.
Anyway lady luck was smiling on us… As we had some sensitive high value cargo on board and our slow speed, the powers that be arranged for a naval escort for us. This was great news and a navy ship escorted us the whole way and into the Red Sea, well clear of the pirate area. During the two days we were in the Gulf of Aden more ships were attacked one only 12 miles from our position. We also saw a collection of the dreaded skiffs waiting near Bab El Mendep (Entrance to the Red Sea) and one passed quite close ahead.
Piracy in that area is on going with no end in sight, despite the strong navy presence. A depressing and worrying thought for seafarers that have to transit that area in slow vulnerable vessels. I had previous experiences of piracy in West Africa in the 1980s and this forms the basis of my novel “Shadow on the Moon” www.piracybooks.co.uk