17 August 2008

Latitude 38 letter about Somolia

Tom and Amy's letter to Latitude 38 magazine was published in the August-2008 issue (page 56). You can read it online here, but it is about halfway down the page. Hint: Use your browser's Find function to find the word "SOMALIA" to get to it (Windows: use Control-F, Mac: use Cmd-F). Here is the letter taken from that issue of the magazine....


In regard to the story you posted about a German cruising family being kidnapped off of the northern part of Somalia, the area is of big interest to me, as my wife and I have just been through it on our way to the Red Sea, the Med, and Turkey.

I think there is much hype about piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and it influences peoples' decisions about making this passage as opposed to not making it at all or going around South Africa. Incidents only seem to involve vessels that are too close to the Somalian shore. In this case, the German couple's vessel had gone close enough to take photos of the shore.

There is, in fact, no reason to go or be anywhere near the coast of Somalia, as the Gulf of Aden is generally more than 150 miles wide. Problems with kidnappers or pirates can be avoided by hugging the coast of Yemen, where the chance of an incident is just about zero. In other words, there is no reason to be less then 100 miles off the coast of Somalia!

It seems as though the only stories that make the news are the tales of irresponsible skippers who bring their boats too close to a coast that is well known for such problems. If you examine all the piracy reports, you'll see that none of them have taken place near the coast of Yemen.

In addition, it's also very easy to travel with other boats, as there are always other boats making the same transits. So why travel alone?

Tom and Amy Larson
Sandpiper, Yorktown 35, Ha-Ha Class of '05
Tiburon / Currently in Turkey

Readers — The reports on the kidnapping of the German cruisers off northern Somalia on June 23 have been rife with incorrect information. It was often reported that there had been four cruisers: an older German couple, their son, and a French skipper. However, the respected German newsweekly Der Spiegel has more recently reported that it was actually just a German couple, identified only as Jürgen K., 63, and Sabine M., 51, aboard their yacht Rockall. They were crossing the Gulf of Aden on their way from Egypt to Thailand when they were kidnapped, apparently having 'cut the corner' to shorten the distance to Thailand.

One of the kidnappers claimed the couple were seized for "invading Somalian waters." Right, as if the couple was the vanguard of the Fourth Reich and Somalia is the new Poland. Der Spiegel reported that the couple later were able to talk to relatives in Germany by phone, and diabetes medicine was sent to Somalia for Jurgen. A Somalian tribal leader in the mountains, where the couple are believed to be held, is the go-between, and says the pirates want $2 million in ransom. As for Rockall, she was found washed ashore. There have been no news updates in nearly a month, which sounds ominous, but is actually not unusual in Somalian abduction cases.

With nearly 2,000 miles, Somalia has the longest coastline of any African country, and the entire length is rife with active pirates and kidnappers. Somalia has been in chaos for decades because of the lack of a central government and because of corruption and numbing poverty.

It's estimated that about 100 private yachts transit the 'chute' that is the Gulf of Aden on their way to the Red Sea each year. Experts say that, although Somalian pirates have come to within 50 miles of Yemen, the Yemen side of the Gulf of Aden is far less dangerous. See this month's Changes for evidence that this is indeed the case.

The most high-profile yacht kidnapping case off Somalia in recent times involved the luxury French sailing yacht Le Ponant on April 4. French troops 'rescued' the hostages — after $2 million in ransom was paid. Eight of the 14 pirates were eventually killed, with the other six arrested. Some of the money was recovered.

But don't think that incident of piracy and kidnapping — which made international headlines — put a stop to such activity. In the July Yachting World, skipper Johan Lillkung of the 88-ft Dolpin reports that there were no less than five piracy incidents off Somalia — in less than 24 hours while he passed offshore. And in early July, Somali pirates freed the German ship Lehman Timber and her crew, who had been hijacked a month before. One of the pirates told reporters that the ship and crew were released after an English-speaking captain paid them $750,000 in cash.

Would we hug the coast of Somalia if we were on our way to or from the Red Sea? No. After all, it's not even one of the garden spots or cultural meccas of the world.

Tom and Amy are back aboard Sandpiper in Fethiey, Turkey. I spoke to Tom yesterday. He said the flight back was fine, but both he and Amy were not feeling well thanks to something they must have ate on the flight to Istanbul. He said that it is very hot there. Sandpiper was very dirty and had to be cleaned. Steve, from S/V Shiraz, kept a good eye on her while Tom and Amy were back in the US.



expedition said...

The pirate situation in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, East Coast of Somalia, Gulf of Aden and north of Socotra Island are much worse than is widely reported and known.

Have you noticed how many patrol vessels have been sent to the region? Still, it is estimated that the number of attacks are only 25% reported.

Recent pirate attacks and hijackings in the Gulf of Aden have included many locations close to the Yemen coastline and within the recommended maritime transit areas. Some have happened near the port area of Al Mukallah, and the bays along the coast of Yemen.

For more info on Somali pirates, see some of the updates in Google Earth, such as this one, Click here:

Vessel masters should not be naive about the situation or the capabilities of the pirate attackers and their motherships. They have fast boats, GPS-radar-radios, and they are very familiar with the areas where vessels are transiting or trying to avoid.

For the most part, it seems that the pirates based in Bosaso, Mogadishu, Eyl, and Hobyo have been concentrating their mothership efforts on larger vessels that can bring in millions of euros.

But, there are new pockets of low-budget Somali pirates operating with dhows, normal-looking fishing vessels, and groups of a few skiffs that float around in lines crossing the common transit courses, picking off smaller vessels for armed theft. Can you outrun their open-water adapted motor skiffs with your sailing yacht, even with a full sail and your motor full throttle? Good luck.

Somali pirate attacks and hijackings have happened as far as 500 nautical miles east of Mogadishu.

Crews need to be alert, have security, and be ready to use countermeasures. Escorted convoys are good but not totally infallible. In true African tradition, stragglers in the herd are snatched by the predators.

Tom & Amy said...

I see that you have left me no way to respond to you other then here as a comment. If you are looking to promote your website through here without any contact info I will be removing this comment. If you would like to know my thoughts please send me your email address to sandpiper_38@hotmail.com
Tom Larson, SV Sandpiper