Attempted Piracy near the Gibraltar Straits?

Oct 5th 09
By Claire Griffiths

Mate/Chef Sharron Stannard was on watch at the helm of the 70-foot power catamaran, M/Y Damrak, at 2 a.m. on October 1, 2009, when she noticed a vessel acting suspiciously approximately three miles off the yacht’s starboard side as they headed west toward the Gibraltar Straits.

M/Y Demrak was in transit from Juan les Pins, France, to Bonanza, Spain.

Stannard says the vessel was following a very erratic course, moving back, then forward, fast then slow for approximately one hour, between M/Y Damrak and the Spanish coast and it gradually was getting closer. Lights on the mystery vessel moved between being visible and not.

“When the vessel was within two miles on our starboard bow, I altered course thirty degrees to starboard to avoid them and give them sea room. They then turned directly towards us and came on at high speed. I altered course by an additional ten degrees to starboard, but they changed course again directly for our beam. I called for the captain, who was asleep off watch, for assistance. The vessel was continuing towards us at high speed on a collision course. I blasted our horn and the captain shone the searchlight on their vessel,” recounts Stannard.

The mystery vessel then pulled up alongside M/Y Damrak approximately 30 miles from the port. Stannard and Capt. John O’Connell continued their course, calling the vessel on the radio asking for identification and their intentions, but they were met with no response. By this time Damrak had moved off approximately 100 metres and the aggressive vessel proceeded towards the port stern, coming alongside as if to board. Stannard shone the spotlight on them again and they stopped in the water, then tried to shine their spotlight on to Damrak, but failed. Stannard says she kept the spotlight on them as she kept heading away. At the same time, she began calling for assistance from Spanish authorities. Fortunately, the unknown vessel did not continue to follow them.

“Their vessel was similar to a high speed 'cigarette' boat with a windshield approximately thirty feet long,” explains Stannard. “It had a white hull, with colored angle markings on the hull at the bow, from deck to waterline, similar to that on Guardia Civil vessels. We saw no ensign or names. There was some kind of arch over the cockpit with a covering and we could not see them inside. We didn’t get any response from Spanish Authorities on VHF Channel 16 as we were out of range. We increased our speed and made our way towards the Spanish coast and contacted Tarifa MRCC via satellite phone to report the incident.”

Stannard has passed through this area several times and never has experienced or heard of such an incident before and she suspects the vessel was trying to come alongside to board. “I think we probably blinded them with our spotlight,” she adds.

“It was a moonlit night, so when I could see their port and starboard navigation lights and white bow wave heading straight towards us at speed, even after we changed course, the adrenalin was pumping.  Afterward, when they had gone, I was nervous. You realize how far away you are from help and how vulnerable you are. [It] makes you look at a small, irregular radar signal in a whole new light! Even though the incident didn’t reach a distress situation, we felt we needed to report it and inform other vessels who may be traveling in the area.”

Do you think that this incident was a possible piracy attempt? Are you in the area? Have you witnessed anything suspicious?

Do you think Stannard and Capt. O’Connell handled the situation well? What would you have done?

 

 

 

 






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6 Comments
  • Possible, plenty of smuggling going on. Few years ago, off the coast of Albania I came across a several thousand carton weed line of Marlboro Red cigarettes...Millions of cigarettes !!! Very recently a triple 300hp mega Rib, smuggling coke up from Algeria, misjudged and ran out of fuel close to the harbor where I winter. The Rib was close enough to shore that the " boys" anchored, swam to the beach, bought a couple jerry jugs, walked to a gas station, filled em up and then realized that they didn't have enough money to pay the petrol station. Station owner called the local police, they investigated and we got to laugh about it in the morning newspaper. Always wondered what the Guardia Civil or whoever takes control of the smuggler boats does with them. Burn them ? Sell Them ? Lampedusa is literally covered with them, Algerciras must be the same. This was a very slick looking ultrmodern ocean going rib with a small wheelhouse....first time Id ever seen something like it.
    Posted by junior_1 07/10/2009 21:02:15

  • Strange though is seems they may have been lost smugglers. I was once helming a small but fast ski boat along the Spanish coast near the Straits, it was very early in the morning and in the season and there were no other vessels around except one all black RIB with three or four guys on board again all dressed in black. They came alongside me very aggressively and for a few moments I thought I was dead! The boat I was in could probably have outrun the Guardia and would have made a useful smuggling boat but I was taken by surprise and hadn't tried to evade them.
    As the RIB bumped alongside me though the guy on the helm looked rather taken aback and apologised (in Spanish) for misjudging the approach. They then pointed to the harbour I had just left and asked if it was Puerto Banus. On being told it was Estepona they then asked for directions to Banus apologised again and left. I got the impression they had been hanging out there half the night looking for help and I was the first person to appear.
    I've since found out that inexperienced crew are often hired for runs from Morocco and just set off with no idea how to use a GPS or radio.
    Needless to say I now let someone know where I am when moving boats along the coast alone even on flat calm mornings when I don't expect to get out of radio or mobile phone range of land.
    Posted by Mandy_2 07/10/2009 16:58:11

  • Oh and many times in places such as Otranto or Gibraltar you can avoid hassles on small craft by checking in with VTS and keeping your AIS active. Ships sailing into the Mediterranean report to the vessel monitoring station in Tangier, outbound ships report to Tarifa. When authotities pick up unidentified small craft operating outside the traffic separation lanes they inevitably investigate.
    Posted by junior_1 06/10/2009 06:43:05

  • The International Maritime Bureau operates an international Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur which is dependant upon all mariners dutifully reporting all acts of piracy (actual or attempted) and any suspicious activity. To file a report by email: inbkl@icc-css.org. To make a report by phone: +60.3.2078.5763. There is also an affiliated 24 hour piracy helpline +60.3.2031.0014. Captains may want to make a note of this information in the boat's log book in order to report hostile or suspicious vessels.
    Posted by Kelly_1 05/10/2009 21:06:46

  • Hmm...Sounds like Sharon met the Spanish Guardia Civil. I cant pass inshore, on a yacht, thru the straits at night without one of those high speed Guardia Civil speedboats shadowing me for an hour. If they were on the north side of the strait Id say Guardia Civil. Next time try this..... break out your best binoculars and zero in on the cockpit area of the offending vessel. If you see Spanish league football playing on a portable television, relax... if visabilty is low and things get really tight, stop the yacht and throw a few Chorizo's on the barbie... that smell will instantly paralyze any Spaniard. When the mystery speedboat starts spinning out and drops aft into your wake , you will know.... Its the boys just doing their job. Illegal immigration and drug smuggling are major issues in Spain and the Spanish are very aggressive on night patrol
    Posted by junior_1 05/10/2009 21:35:02

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