Battling Pirates: Guns on Yachts?

29 August 2008 By Y IF

I was anchored in Porto Vecchio in Corsica four nights ago, 100 meters astern of S/Y Tiara. I considered this to be the safest place in the Med after their ordeal the previous night.

I’d like to share my experience on the matter of guns on boats.

To date I have had four separate incidents involving undesirables either aboard or trying to get aboard (aka modern-day pirate attacks).

Once whilst running from Hong Kong to Singapore off the Vietnam coast I was called to the bridge when a target was seen ahead of our Benetti Classic.

As the distance decreased, the target unlit moved off to our starboard side and in the darkness paralleled our course falling behind into our wake.

I had already set the yacht up in Hong Kong for such an event by blacking out all interior lights, so with the flick of the nav light switch I could go completely blackout.

I then changed my course 90 degrees in the hope that the now closing vessel astern wouldn’t have radar and would lose us in the darkness.

This was the case and as we now closed the Vietnam coast the offending vessel continued along the old course line. We lost them in the darkness.

Whilst cruising Burma about 13 years ago, and whilst anchored in a secluded bay with guests aboard, I was summoned to the aft deck of the 36-meter motor yacht I was captain of at the time.

The sight of young men armed to the teeth with machine guns sent the fear of God through me. I approached them, staying as calm as possible, and having sent the girls below on strict instructions not to be seen. I weyed deeply in the traditional Asian manner of respect (who wouldn’t with large caliber machine guns pointing at you)?

Quietly, but confidently, I told the boarders that I had a baby aboard and asked them not to harm any of us and that I would give them anything they wanted.

Speaking Thai directly to them, they were a bit surprised as they understood me and proceeded to give my Thai crew instructions on what they wanted: Food, beer, Coca-Cola, watches (fakes bought in Thailand just for such an occasion), and engine parts.

All this time the guests were kept out of sight and although we had several guns aboard they were no match for the machine guns, so I decided not to provoke an attack and keep the situation calm.

There was some shouting at my Thai crew and aggressive gestures with the guns, but somehow I never really believed they would start shooting, They looked more scared than I did.

Eventually they climbed aboard their long tail boat with the goodies and disappeared over the horizon.

South of Sri Lanka 150 nautical miles, a small boat with about five males tried to close on our yacht. I was alerted when they were a long way off so had a lot of time to weigh-up the situation. No fishing nets, boat not damaged, engine running well. I had a crew of two girls and three guys. The odds were not great if these guys had bad intentions.

What I noticed was that they were wearing long coats, and in the heat of the day this was for sure not right. I will never know what they might have had under the coats, machetes or some other weapons, and I wasn’t about to find out.

Hammers down and we were off like a bullet directly away from them. With enough speed to lose them I was happy with the decision not to hang around. The guns aboard stayed in the gun locker.

I was running aid from Lankawi, Malaysia to Banda Aeche after that terrible disaster [tsunami] on Boxing Day 2005. I had chartered local fast ferries to shuttle volunteers and supplies to the areas of Northern Sumatra devastated by the the tsunami.

Now one would think when engaged in “good work,” and flying the red cross as a sign of the good work we were doing, we would be safe. After several weeks of our efforts I was returning as normal, having dropped aid to our base on Paula Whey and Paro on the west coast of Sumatra. I normally kept the captain company as we passed through the channel of islands just off Banda Aeche’s newly shaped coastline.

At a distance of about five nautical miles offshore we noticed that what looked like fishing boats were forming a blocking maneuver directly across our course. Four boats were jockeying into a position, which was meant to stop us. We were now empty of our precious cargo of food and clothes, which meant we had our full speed potential of around 25 knots.

The captain looked at me, and I at him, and without a word from me the captain swung his vessel directly toward the outermost boat and at full speed was intent on cutting him in half. The fishing boat, realizing what was happening, quickly decided to give way and clear the course.

We made a fast, long turn to port and back in shore towards Banda Aeche where we met up with an Indonesian patrol boat. After explaining what had happened they escorted us out of Indo waters.

My view is stay vigilant; keep a good look out when in notorious areas. Have a plan, keep calm, run away if possible and keep the guns for the professionals.