Oman and Yemen, used to greeting around 200 cruising yachts a year who pass through their waters to reach the Red Sea, are suffering because of the persistent danger of piracy which has now spread right across the Arabian Sea.
200 yachts a year used to pass through the Gulf of Aden - photo of Salalah with yachts at anchor
Fear of piracy has forced cancellation or rerouting of yachts and yacht rallies, say rally organisers. This has resulted in the ports of the two countries losing business as the number of yacht arrivals has seen a dramatic decline in the past three years.
Peter Ford, CEO, Port of Salalah, confirmed that there has seen a noticeable reduction in the number of yachts berthing up for maintenance and resupply because of the risks of pirate attacks while at sea.
Rally organisers say the figure dropped by around 75 per cent in 2010, and reduced further this year with just a handful willing to take the chance. Planned rallies and cruises for 2012, which would likely dock at Oman's ports are also being cancelled.
'Due to the very dangerous situation in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden this is a no-go area for yachts. Yachts have to sail round South Africa or ship their yachts as cargo to Europe,' said Lo Brust, organiser of the Vasco da Gama Rally. 'I expect only a few yachts heading for Salalah this season. I decided not to organise a rally(from the Mediterranean) to Yemen, Oman and India.'
A thing of the past - yachts at sunset in the Port of Salalah, Oman
Rene Tiemessen, leader of a Thailand to Turkey rally in 2010, told Muscat Daily that the yachts who do decide to make the perilous journey are counting on international navies to maintain security for yachts. 'Normally around 200 yachts used to pass (Oman and Yemen) every year.
'The number has gone down to 150 and 100 in the past few years. Last year (2011 season, where most yachts travel in February or March), only 55 yachts passed through the Arabian Sea. Since then only a handful of yachts have tried to pass through this route,' said Tiemessen.
Earlier this year, the SV Quest, a member of the Blue Water Rally, was hijacked en route to Salalah, resulting in the deaths of four US nationals crewing it and the rally’s closure. (This was the most serious piracy incident, although A Danish crew of seven including three teenagers were held hostage for many months and there is another South African cruising couple still in pirates' hands at time of writing.)
The firm that ran the Blue Water Rally has since ceased trading, although former officials said that had any further rallies been held, the waters of the Arabian Sea would have been avoided. 'We would not have sailed through the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden because of piracy. We had planned a rally from Europe to Maldives and ship the yachts to avoid the danger, but couldn't go ahead due to prohibitive cost,' said Richard Bolt, former director at Blue Water Rallies Limited.
The EU Navfor maritime security missions to the region said that the presence of warships from the EU, NATO and Combined Maritime Forces has 'significantly reduced' the number of pirate attacks. However a spokesperson denied that yachts could count on assistance from the task force. 'This area is the same size as Western Europe and there are only between 12 and 18 warships in the area, with far higher priority tasking than protection of yachts and their crews, so if attacked, the chance of release is remote,' said the EU Navfor spokesperson.
The International Sailing Federation states on its website that following the escalation of pirate attacks yachtsmen are advised to avoid the high risk areas of the region.
In recent weeks, Laura Dekker, 16-year-old would-be solo circumnavigator, whose route across the Indian Ocean was kept secret, arrived in Durban after crossing the Indian Ocean well south of the troubled area.
Turanor PlanetSolar, a fully solar powered yacht, also making its way around the world, is hugging the coastline of India, Oman and Yemen to reach the Red Sea. Contrary to the situation of most yachts, the scale and height of PlanetSolar may make it a tough proposition for even very ambitious pirates.
However, PlanetSolar is just one craft and will not do much to alleviate the economic distress of the port businesses in Oman and Yemen. Until the piracy problem is solved, there will be very thin pickings.
Letter received from reader:
Sender: Marcel Liedts
Our ship (a product tanker) dropped her armed guards in Muscat because they cannot come into Saudi Arabia where she went for discharge and then went into the 'safe port' of Salalah to load where she was hijacked under the eyes of the Omani navy. Now after more than 100 days she and more important our crew is still there in captivity together with a few others and the world does nothing. A truly International scandal.
This all just to say that the Gulf of Aden is no place for yachts at all and this most likely for a long time to come.
We define high risk as low freeboard, low speed. You can make out for yourself where a yacht figures. Any skipper of a yacht with more than 2 neurons talking to each other and concerned for life and property should not be there at all.