During the evenings leading up to our departure from Galle, our cocktail conversations revolved around the threat of piracy. Of the four other yachts in Galle Harbor, two were headed back east (one back to Thailand for a refit and the other to Sumatra to surf) and two were headed west through Pirate Alley, but their crews were getting off in Sri Lanka. None of the original crews on the five boats in Galle was willing to make the trip to the Red Sea. Some of the crews would have been willing to run the gauntlet a few months ago, when there were masses of yachts heading through and the winds were favorable. But now, with the winds against us and few boats available to form a convoy, Galle was as far as they would go. So the owners have hired delivery crews to take their boats through Pirate Alley.
As the delivery crews arrived in Galle, our conversations veered from "we wouldn't go there" to "how do you make it safely through Pirate Alley in a yacht?" One of the delivery skippers was talking about running trip wires and oiling his swim platform to make boarding his boat difficult. We couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He was also looking to buy some arms in Sri Lanka. The long term cruisers (us included) were firmly in the camp of not carrying weapons. None of us has weapons training. None of us was confident that we would be able to shoot first. Therefore, we all believed that we would rather not have a weapon on board that could escalate a conflict. We agreed that we would all just lay down and be submissive. If we were to be held for ransom, well, that would be preferable to getting shot. We figure that we could probably sell the book and movie rights for enough to cover the ransom payment. And hey, we might even learn a new language in the process!
We've been thinking more and more about what we will do in the event of a pirate attack as the Somali pirates extend their range deeper into the Indian Ocean. After our two month sojourn in Chagos, we had been planning on visiting the Seychelles and Madagascar enroute to South Africa. But recent news reports about pirate attacks in the Seychelles and some uncorroborated information that we heard this morning on the radio net has us considering other options.
Despite its proximity to Somalia, the Seychelles had been free of pirate activity until recently. However, for the past two months a pirate mothership has been operating in the vicinity of the Seychelles.
In early March the sailing yacht Serenity, enroute to Madagascar from the Seychelles (on or near our planned route), was hijacked. The yacht was taken to Somalia where the crew is being held for ransom.
In early April, pirates hijacked the live aboard dive boat Indian Ocean Explorer near Assumption Island in the Southern Seychelles. The last we heard, that boat and its crew were also enroute to Somalia to await ransom.
A week later, a Taiwanese fishing boat was captured off of Denis Island, less than 50 miles from the capital of the Seychelles.
On April 7th, the French sailing yacht Tanit was captured between the Seychelles and Somalia. There were four adults and one toddler on board. Tragically, the captain (and father of the child) was killed when French commandos took back the yacht.
A week ago, an Italian cruise ship, also traveling north of the Seychelles, repelled a pirate attack using firehoses and guns.
This morning on the Chagos radio net, we heard a French yacht captain call in to report that the pirate mothership operating in the Seychelles had five skiffs, each powered by a 70 hp engine and carrying 11 pirates with automatic weapons. The French captain reported that the mothership and the skiffs had blockaded the Seychelles and that there were 12 yachts negotiating with the authorities for safe passage out of the Seychelles. The French yacht and two other yachts that they are traveling with had diverted from the Seychelles. They (wisely - you never know who is listening) would not give their position or their new intended destination.
We are waiting to make the call on whether to go to the Seychelles until closer to our departure date from Chagos. A lot can change in two months. Heck, the French could launch an attack on the mothership. But based on recent developments, we are seriously considering alternative routes to South Africa. While we are in Chagos these next two months we will not have any access to the internet, but we will be able to receive email over our HF radio. If any of our readers come across any recent news articles about piracy in the Seychelles or Madagascar, we'd really appreciate it if you could cut and paste the text into a short email to send to us at crew a matairea.com. Thanks!
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