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Were they Pirates? Or Were they Curious?

by Nancy Knudsen on 5 Feb 2008
In a separate incident, these ’pirates’, in the same location, off the coast of Kerala India, requested water and cigarettes. .. .
The hysteria attached to the idea of Pirates, the reality of the existence of pirates in certain areas of the world, and those who make their living out ot selling books about 'Piracy' can make long range cruising sailors extremely jumpy - and, if they have weapons on board, prone to use them too quickly. Following is the story of a 'pirate' encounter off the western coast of India, near Cochin (Kochi).

While those waters are swarming with fishermen, who often approach foreign yachts in their powerful boats at speed, there have been no recorded instances of piracy in these waters since records have been kept.

There is no question that the yacht crew, in this instance, fired first. At question, then, is the motives of the fishermen. Were they were intent on plunder, or angry that they had been fired on?

Read the story as it appeared in the Sunday Times by journalists Anthony David and Gamini Mahadura, and draw your own conclusions:

A Brazilian and three German nationals headed towards a port in Kochin, India from the Andaman islands, encountered local fishermen who allegedly forced themselves on board, provoking the group to fire at them and eventually pay compensation to avoid a legal battle.

The group which set out in a yacht and catamaran were sailing at some 150 nautical miles off the southern coast when they ran into trouble last Tuesday. Being veterans in sailing the risk of facing sea pirates was not unusual for Walter L Ethin(73), Ingrid Erika(68), who were traveling in one vessel and Swingler Hurbert (69) and Therishma Silva, (57) travelling in the other.

The four sailors first assumed a threat on Tuesday evening when they spotted a fishing trawler fast approaching the yacht. Having realized that they were not fishermen warning shots were fired to prevent the vessel from getting closer.

A second attempt to board the yacht was made again at around 11pm when the trawler having switched off its lights approached the yacht.

The following morning a different vessel but believed to belong to the same group made another attempt to approach the yacht, this time a shot was fired causing injuries to one of the men who appeared to attempt boarding the yacht.

By the fourth attempt to board the yacht that same day, the German nationals alerted an international agency based in the US by sending distress signals indicating they were under attack. Simultaneously the local fishermen on board the vessel ‘Thanuja Putha’ alerted the Fishermen’s Multi-purpose Cooperative Society who in turn alerted the Navy claiming the fishermen had been fired upon by an unidentified vessel.

The Navy arrived later, and accompanied the Germans to the Galle Habour, despite the group being in international waters. The group claimed that they fired in self-defence after the men tried to board the yacht.

Meanwhile the injured local identified as S.K.Wimalasena of Kamburugamuwa denied attempting to board the yacht four times, claiming he was fired upon without provocation. Wimalasena was admitted to the Galle hospital.

Navy Spokesman, Commander D.K.P. Dassanayaka told The Sunday Times the Navy intervened as they received an international alert as well as one from the Multi-purpose Co-operative Society on behalf of the fishermen.“We took action to bring the respective parties to shore and hand them over to the Police for investigations,” he said.

The Sunday Times learns the German embassy was alerted and the issue was taken up with the Foreign Secretary, Dr. Palitha Kohona and the Navy. Back in Galle the fishermen demanded compensation of Rs. 1 million while the three Germans were handed over to the police as ‘suspects’ involved in a shooting and were produced before Galle Magistrate on Thursday.

Lawyers appearing for the fishermen informed courts they were not willing for a settlement and wanted the case taken up. Eventually the German nationals to avoid a long drawn out legal battle decided to settle by making a payment of US dollars 1,000 (Rs. 117,000) to the injured fishermen.

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