In spite of the fact that the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the various patrolling navies have been strongly advising leisure yachts to avoid the piracy zone of the Indian Ocean, the recent tragedy of four American cruising sailors killed by pirates and the kidnapping of a Danish family including three children has prompted more action by the IMO.
While ISAF has repeatedly advised cruising sailors not to transit the region, they could have been (and still could be) giving mixed messages by stating that around 200 yachts a year transit the region, and give much advice about best courses and who to contact to register the fact that you are transiting.
IMO has contacted ISAF in order to join efforts in stressing the importance of avoiding sailing in the areas most affected by piracy, particularly in the Western Indian Ocean.
In the letter sent to ISAF, the IMO Secretary General highlighted the particular easy target that sailing vessels are in front of well organized pirate gangs with speed boats and capable to cover extensive areas of the Indian Ocean, 'With the pirates' ability to hunt for targets in extensive areas of the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, the risk has increased and I would urge that an even more robust line be taken by those planning to cruise in these waters.
'I consider it, therefore, extremely dangerous for sailing organizations to organize races in these piracy-infested areas, where criminal elements stand ready to exploit the vulnerability of any kind of sailing boats.
'In the prevailing circumstances, I view any venture to continue sailing in these waters very imprudent and highly irresponsible and would ask you to exert any influence you can to discourage members of ISAF from disregarding the real risks they face, particularly in the Western Indian Ocean.
'By so doing, they not only subject themselves and their crews to great risks, they cause significant problems to navies participating in the anti-piracy campaign we are running in the region'
Graphic illustration of the increase in span of pirates attacks over the years - .. .
In his response, Jerome Pels, ISAF's Secretary General pointed out that, 'ISAF strongly advises against the operation of and travel by all recreational sailing craft on the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Somali Basin and the western parts of the Indian Ocean.
'ISAF further urges all mariners intending to sail through the entire area to reconsider the necessity of their travel plans. However, there are quite a number of circumnavigators that set off before the situation in this part of the world escalated to the current deplorable state who are now effectively trapped in the wrong place.
'ISAF has urged these sailors to consider the alternatives, such as transporting their vessels by yacht carrier and it has played a significant role in putting sailors in touch with such a service, but for many their boat is their home and they are unable to afford this option.'
On the 22 March 2011, Stuart Carruthers, Chairman of the ISAF International Regulation Commission, led a group of five delegates representing ISAF and blue water cruising organizations to the Headquarters of the EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) to discuss the deteriorating situation and the escalation of pirate activities off the Gulf of Aden in the Somali Basin Dubai anti-piracy conference:
In the meantime, the UAE counter-piracy conference held in Dubai this week has seen an unprecedented commitment from both government and industry leaders from around the world to taking concrete steps to battle piracy in the short and long term, and both on and off shore.
For the full story on the outcome of the conference, click here?nid=82731