Britain's Royal Navy has rejected a request by a cruising couple to give a convoy of around 30 yachts escort to the start of the Gulf of Aden, Salalah. Dutch cruising sailors Rene and Edith Tiemessen, who previously sailed with kidnapped sailors Paul and Rachel Chandler, have organised a rally/convoy from Thailand to Turkey and appealed for help from the British Navy several months ago.
Sailing with their two-year-old daughter Devi and an American crew member Kate Schafer on a 60ft yacht called Alondra, the Tiemessens are now in an anchorage at Ulugan in the Maldives waiting for a propitious time to depart. Rene says that, spread between the Maldives and ports in India, at least 200-250 other cruising sailors, travelling on around 100 yachts are in touch with them and seeking protection of a similar kind to that afforded to commercial shipping.
However, Royal Navy commanders have condemned the couple, as there have been repeated warnings for yachties to avoid the area completely. Rene and his group of sailors insist that the situation has changed so radically in the last few months, due partly to the east monsoon being very late, that a new stretch of water - between the latitude of Mumbai and Salalah is the new danger area.
Britain currently commands Operation Atlanta, the EU anti-piracy taskforce, which has 27 vessels from Spain, Germany, Italy and France patrolling an area larger than Europe. Royal Navy commanders turned down the request on the basis that they cannot spare a vessel.
A Ministry of Defence source told Britain's Daily Express: 'We received communication from this couple, demanding protection from a naval warship, which they want to escort them through a stretch that could take two or three weeks to navigate. This is a totally unrealistic request. The naval vessels of Operation Atalanta have to prioritise their duties, and protecting merchant vessels leave them with little scope for protecting unnecessary sailing.'
However, Rene Tiemessen says the stretch of water for which the convoy is requesting an escort will take only four days to transit.
Speaking via satellite phone Rene said: 'We have been begging for help for months (from the EU anti-piracy taskforce), because we knew we would have to make this journey to get home, which is the same for all the other sailors stranded here. We are not simply cruising around irresponsibly. We are caught on the wrong side of an ever changing and expanding problem. But now they have told us there is nothing they can do. It’s like asking for help from the police, and being told you are not eligible.'
Thailand to Turkey - .. .
The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) strongly recommends against travelling this route because of the pirate activity in the area, but it doesn't stop dozens of yachts from making the journey. Travelling by convoy has long been recognised as sensible for yachts travelling through the Gulf of Aden, with recent convoys staying strictly in the patrolled zone or hugging the coast of Yemen to remain under the control of the Yemeni Coastguard. Yemen has played a significant role in recent years in the war against piracy, with coordination centres in three Yemeni cities.
Alondra has already transited this area in 2007 in the reverse direction, visiting Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen, Oman, India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives on their way to Thailand. In this journey Rene and Edith sailed in loose company with the Chandlers, from Kent, and were some of the cruising sailors in the Seychelles region who advised the British couple against sailing to Tanzania. The Chandlers were released last year after 388 days in captivity following the reported payment of a £625,000 ransom.
According to the Tiemessens, over the years a clear view has developed as to how to organize the convoy from Salalah into the Red Sea. 'Salalah to the Red Sea is not the issue,' he maintains.
The couple, who have spent the intervening years sailing in Thailand, have been putting together the convoy and meeting with participants to advise on all the issues involved with sailing as a group.
While there are 200-250 people involved, it seems that the 'proper authorities' are not willing to cooperate, as the yachts do not carry cargo.
The yachts must move during the sailing season, and, without help from the naval forces, will be forced to proceed without escort.
Tiemessen is more than worried. 'Something bad is going to happen,' he said today by satellite phone, 'The families on these boats are starting to panic and go off in different directions. With the dramatic increase in pirate activity in the Indian Ocean I cannot believe that all 100 yachts can get through unscathed.'
....................... Comment from reader:
Sender: Daria Blackwell
If the yachts in question could find a way to carry cargo, would they then qualify for the escort?
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