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Through the Arabian Gulf Pirate Zone in 2004

by Nancy Knudsen on 19 Dec 2005
On 21st February, 2004, 21 sailing boats set out from Salalah in Oman to transverse the hottest pirate zone in the world, and we (Blackwattle) were among that group. Prior to departure opinions were mixed. Some boats wished to slip through alone, some wanted a contingent. Some wanted to make contingents with boats who didn't want them. There was much confusion.

In the end, a general meeting was held, where information was shared. There was no consensus. The atmosphere in the meeting was tense, if collaborative. Fast boats and knowledgeable sailors simply did not want to be responsible for slow boats or sailors they considered incompetent.

I put the content of the meeting into some 'Minutes' which shared the most important of the information.

Here are the 'Minutes' of the meeting:

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Red Sea Net Suggested Procedures
Boats departing Salalah on Saturday 21st February, 2004 :

Clearance:
Boats wishing Mohammed to obtain clearance should hand over documentation to him at the wharf at 9.00am on Friday 20th. Passports and clearance will be ready for collection at the wharf at 7.00pm that evening for departure Saturday. Please check with Mohammed whether you need to produce insurance papers. He will also need to know your NEXT PORT OF CALL for Customs.

Waypoints:
WAY POINT A: N13.30 E49.20 WAY POINT B: N12.48 E46.50
WAY POINT C: N13.46 E49.12 WAY POINT D: N13.02 E46.44


General Scheds:
HF Frequency: Scheds: 4030 and 8173(reporting only) Emergency: 2182
Times: 0600 1200 1800 2400, Salalah time, UTC+4.
After leaving Salalah, please give your position in relation to the way point (eg. X miles from Way Point C), and do not mention on air the position of the way points
VHF for close proximity communication: 73 Emergency: 16
The Red Sea Net will continue as usual at 8.00am daily Salalah time, UTC+4.

Salalah to Way Points:
Boats should make their way independently to either Way Point A or Way Point C. During this journey it is thought that boats will discover boats with similar speeds. Boats should collect at WP A or WP C at sunset on the day of arrival.

Formation of small convoys at the Way Points:
At the Way Points, boats will form small convoys of not more than four compatible boats, and establish rules applying to their own convoy, including:
a. lights to be displayed, if any
b. distance to be maintained between boats, and formation details
c. scheds other than those maintained above
d. Speed to be maintained
e. Procedures in case of pirate approach, other than mentioned in PIRATE APPROACH below
f. Position at which the convoy shall disband, if different from Way Point B or D
g. Who is to be the net controller
h. Whether all boats in small convoy will continue to call on the six hourly sched, or only the net controller.

Boats will then proceed as agreed within the convoy to either Way Point B or Way Point D. If too many boats congregate at one time at a way point, separate way points should be established, say, 5 miles south of Way Point A and B

PIRATE APPROACH:
Boat being approached will call a MAYDAY on Channel 16 and 2182. Boats in the vicinity will assist by:

a. continuing to call the emergency by all methods open to them
b. specifically attempting to call any shipping in the area
c. making contact with the boats with satellite phones, who will then phone the available range of emergency numbers (distributed to these boats separately)
d. letting off flares
e. Coming to the aid of the robbed boat in any way necessary after the pirates have departed

It is NOT anticipated that boats will remain in the area or make any supportive or preventative moves during the robbery.

SATELLITE PHONES are on the following boats: BLACKWATTLE, DESTINY, BRITT and SOLARA.

Satellite Phone Numbers for use in pirate approach:

The following Stations are believed to operate 24/7:

Saudi Arabia (Jeddah MRCC): +966 2648 1596

Egypt JRCC Cairo: +20 2 478 4537

Kuala Lumpur Anti- Piracy Help Line: + 60 3 2031 0014

Australian Maritime Safety Authority: +61 2 6230 6811

Unknown whether the following are 24/7 Stations or not:

Aden Harbour Master: Duty Officer: +9672 202 262
+9672 202 238
Yemen Port Authority, Aden +9672 202 666
+9672 203537

Djibouti: French Navy: + 253 351 351 or +253 350 348, and ask for the Officier Permanent , Operation
Djibouti Port Authority: +253 352 331 or +253 351501

Eritrea Assab: +251 3 660077
Masawa: +251 1 552122

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In the event, we (Blackwattle) joined with four other boats, at Waypoint A, and we made our way without lights, in a V formation 500 metres apart, and tracked each other by radar. We crossed the 'pirate zone' on a moonless mid-week night(most previous attacks had occurred at the weekend), and stayed on the recommended mid-point track between Yemen and Somalia. We did NOT use the VHF at all, communicating by HF radio only. It was a tense night, but we slept well when not on watch, and had no incident.

However, it is worth noting that one of our party had been tracked the previous night by an unidentified radar blip for many hours. They called for assistance and a boat from our party heard them and called Australia, who called the Kuala Lumpur pirate number, who called the Coalition Warship base in our area. 12 hours later, after our small contingent had come together, we were circled by a Coalition helicopter, then later were visited by a Coalition Warship, who said they would take care of us during the coming night through the danger zone. To prove their sincerity, the Spanish sailors (who pulled out of the Coalition later because of the Madrid train disaster) visited each boat in one of their rubber duckies, and presented us with a fine bottle of Spanish wine. We didn't see them again.

There were two sailing boats attacked by pirates in the 2004 season. One was a 28ft single hander, who lost his electronics to the pirates, the other a French boat who said later that they had not heard that there was a pirate problem. Both boats were sailing close to the Yemeni coast.
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