With the news that a Danish yacht was seized by pirates last Thursday, there has been concern raised about the fact among the seven aboard the vessel are three children, aged between 12 and 16. As Danish foreign minister Lene Espersen put it, "It's almost unbearable to know that children are involved, and I vigorously condemn the pirates."
On a Time online blog, an item was posted today that voiced what many others are thinking, with the writer wondering, "What astounds your humble correspondent is that many foreigners, mostly Europeans and Americans, still insist on adventuring in the shadow of the pirate threat, especially with their own children."
Seems a fair assessment on the surface, but ignores the fact that piracy is not confined to the Indian Ocean or seas off the Horn of Africa. Yachters face the risk of seaborne attacks in many other places, such as the Caribbean. In early December, a Canadian man was killed by attackers while anchored on his boat off the north coast of Honduras. As reported, he was shot in front of his 24-year-old daughter, who managed to get a passing commercial vessel to rescue her. (The yachter killed, Milan Egrmajer, was a retired veteran of the Canadian Navy, so was not unaware of maritime risks.)
Sailing in many parts of the world is fraught with potential trouble, from the weather to criminal activity, on shore and at sea. Nobody sails in a place like off the Horn of Africa without being aware of the risks. But should they be there in the first place?
Well NATO does not think so. On their shipping site (see here), they state, "Naval forces strongly recommend that yachts do not transit this area." And the European Union's Naval Force Somalia site says, "Yachts are strongly recommended to avoid the area."
So if you follow this thinking we should just concede the seas off Somalia to the pirates and go elsewhere. Except that the route through the Red Sea to and from the Suez Canal is a vital transit corridor, for pleasure boats as well as commercial vessels. And giving in to the pirates is the wrong approach.
Instead, recent incidents involving yachters mean that the various entities dealing with the situation in that part of the world need to amend their procedures. To simply attempt to safeguard commercial vessels while ignoring yachters is misguided. As the EU says (quoted on Noonsite), "Anti-piracy patrols by warships can only offer limited protection for yachts in the area. If you are boarded by pirates, the rules of engagement prevent EU naval forces from taking steps to rescue you."
Damn, that's a bitch.
As an EU member, hopefully the Danes will not throw up their hands and leave the most recently hijacked yachters left to their own devices. But they should also have released information about the seizure earlier than four days after it occurred, if only to give fair warning to any other vessels in the area the incident transpired.
It is time for the naval forces in the region to extend their protection to yachts and specifically provide convoy assistance to these boats. they may not be carrying hundreds of millions in commercial goods, but they are still mariners seeking free passage on the seas.
But it is also time for the yachting community to address this situation in a more cohesive manner. As the level of violence continues to rise in the region as a result of pirate activities, sailing in the area must be considered akin to venturing into a storm front.
Most are aware of the risks, and a good take can be found on the Cruising World site (see here), where a couple of yachters recently talked about the stress of sailing in piracy-prone waters.