*This story ran in the October 2007
edition of 'Sky Magazine'
We were about
30 miles off the Yemen coast on the morning of 2 March when the pirates attacked. It was about half an hour from the watch change at 06.00 when they came
out of the early morning mist. About
300 yards away ahead on the starboard bow. - Three old ship's lifeboats
on a course to intercept Bambola Quatre, my Moody 36. as we sailed
in company with German singlehander, Ulf Reimer, in his 35ft
yacht, Josephine. I was keeping watch for both boats.
three boats life boats with the sides raised by blue plastic sheeting like many
boats in this area, were crowded with people and my first thought was that they
were ‘boat people’ lost and in need of water or food. My second thought was that with that many we didn’t
have enough to make a difference. My
third thought was it
1 dived below to radio Ulf
on the VHF that we had company. As I was calling to him to ‘wake
up’ in JOSEPHINE, which was about 50 metres astern and to starboard, I heard the first gunshots. I looked back out of the hatch
and saw men firing automatic weapons in the air shouting and gesticulating for me to heave too.
I hit the Ch
16 button on the
VHF and transmitted a
Mayday, giving my
position and simply stating we were being attacked by pirates. To my surprise an
immediate response came:
‘This is a US Navy Warship. Repeat your position”.
I repeated the
lat and long reading from the GPS
above the chart table and added "They are shooting!"
“We are 20
miles to the north,
heading towards you."
A burst of
automatic gun fire and I looked out of the hatch to see the lead boat approaching with a man aiming an AK47 at Bambola and me. I covered my
laptop computer with the logbook and went into the cockpit with my hands up. The
gunmen pointed at the sails and indicated for me to take them down then aimed
very seriously their weapons in my direction. I released the sheets and let the
In Darwin, Ulf
and I had agreed to try to meet in Salala, the southernmost port of Oman, to make the passage through the Strait of Aden to Djibouti and up the Red Sea in
On the way up
the Gulf of Aden Ulf’s VHF radio had broken and I had loaned him my hand-held radio so we could keep in touch. Like many British and European yachts, we felt the rumors of pirate attacks were exaggerated and that the chances were low due to the large military presence In the area in the build
up to the war with Iraq. Many American yachts appeared to be paranoid about the
possibility going to surprising lengths to make increase security.
Bambola I had my wife
asleep in the after cabin
and Alex Busch. (21) who
had crewed for me since Phuket in Thailand asleep in the Foc’sle.
started to bang around and another volley of shots was fired. Alex
came into the cockpit and nodded towards the pirate boats.
‘Drop the main’ I said and proceeded to winch in the Genoa.
cautiously and slowly.
The two pirate boats nudged
up to our quarters, allowing
the gunmen to scramble
aboard with automatic pistols and AK47s.
Clutching an AK47 one of them
immediately dived below looked round then to my horror headed down the tunnel to
the after cabin where my wife was sleeping. Horrified and waiting for the
screams as my wife awoke to find an armed Arab pirate ransacking the cabin I was
surprised when he returned a few minutes later and indicated for me to join him
in the saloon. Leaving Alex on deck
with 5 or 6 other pirates I went below. The
pirate stuck his gun into stomach and with his other hand made the universal
gesture for money. ‘Money, Money,
Dollar Dollar’ he screamed at me.
‘Sure’ I said as calmly as I
could. ‘I get it’?
He nodded and I went down the tunnel to my cabin where I expected to find my
wife and where my stash of $600
in large and small denominations was hidden in a drawer. The duvet of the bed
was heaped up in a bundle. My wife must be under there hiding I thought. Good.
I took the wad of dollar bills and returned to the saloon handing them
over to the Arab gunman. As soon as
he started to count them another pirate dived down the hatch and the two of them
started fighting on the cabin floor. I Looked up out of the hatch to see another
Arab with his Uzi pointing straight down at me and he indicated for me to come
up into the cockpit. I obliged to
find another trying to remove the solar panels – he failed they were too well
bolted on and a couple more ‘covering’ Alex as he stood by the mast having
dropped the main. The boom was crashing from side to side as we rolled in the
swell and I remember thinking I should tighten the main sheet before someone got
hurt then thinking I wouldn’t as I really would like someone to get hurt!
One of the pirates made the
gesture of looking through his hands and I gave him the binoculars. He was so
pleased he took my wrist watch (a cheap waterproof Casio I used on board) Please
with this he went to Alex for and demanded his very expensive diving watch.
Reluctantly but sensibly Alex handed it over.
The two pirates in the saloon had
finished their argument over my money and emerged with the emerged clutching my
SSB and VHF radios with a
Raytheon repeater still attached to a wooden panel that they had torn out.
I could hear gunfire from the 3rd
pirate boat that was close to Josephine.
They had gesticulated to him
to drop his sails and fired shots into the rigging, doing some damage. Ulf pretended
not to understand and went below out
of sight. He had loaded his flare pistol and fired shots up
air through the open deck hatch.
At the same time he put out a Mayday on my hand-held VHF. There were only two gunmen in the third boat and they didn't board Josephine. Instead, they headed towards Bambola, where the
pirates were now shouting at the first
two boats, ordering them to come alongside again. The poor people crowded into the boats looked
even more terrified than I was. They were
obviously not involved with the
piracy and I suspect that they'd paid to be smuggled from Somalia.
The two life boats rammed into the
both quarters of Bambola producing some nasty scrapes in the GRP and the gunmen
handed their ‘booty’ of my equipment down to their colleagues. The three
boats headed away fast to the
north-east and I took a quick bearing on their direction.
I dived below to see what had happened to my wife. I lifted
the duvet on the bed and to my horror she was not under it! I looked round – the
door to the heads was closed. I pulled the door open to find my wife fully
dressed sitting on the loo smoking a cigarette. She expressed her deep displeasure at the incident.
‘Sorry’ I said and headed
back to the cockpit
Ulf motored across to see if we
were OK and passed me my hand-held radio. I
could now see the shape of a large merchant vessel painted in camouflage colours
on the horizon. She arrived close after another 5 minutes of so. She was in fact a fleet auxiliary with a civilian captain. He was in contact with his
boss in Norfolk Virginia by Sat phone. Using my hand held VHF I was able to
communicate with the ship. The
Captain made certain we were unharmed and had sufficient food, water and fuel to
get to our next port which was to be Djibouti. Naturally he wanted details of
the two yachts nationality and that of the crew.
Anxious to get my equipment and money back not to mention a little
revenge, I begged him to follow the pirates on the bearing I gave him. They
could only be a few miles away over or horizon. He agreed to do this whilst he called his HQ in Norfolk with out details and for Instructions. The US Navy ship
steamed over the horizon in pursuit of the Pirates.
Half an hour later the Navy
vessel called on the VHS and reported that he'd found the pirates and was circling them. ‘A more suitable US 'facility’
was on its way to take over the
I assumed he meant an armed
warship was on its way.
Alex and I hoisted our sails –
stuck a reef in the main and in company with Ulf in Josephine resumed our track
for Djibouti. About 50 miles from the port we became aware we were being
shadowed occasionally by large warships. I
think I was bit shaken by the attack and in only 20 knots from astern kept a
reef in the main all the way to the anchorage a couple of days later.
We entered at night and at 03.00
as we were finding a good spot to anchor we became aware there was a rib not far
away full of men. We got the anchor down and stuck in and the rib came alongside
driven by an Arab and full of men in battle fatigues.
For a moment my heart sank – we were about to rob again.
“We are from the German Warship
Elbe and we want to know if we can help in any way?” Do you need
medical aid, food, water? We have heard of your attack and we would like to help
in any way we can?
From then on the Officers and Men of the Elbe took us
under their wing and gave us all the help and support imaginable.
The port officials of Djibouti waved payment of all immigration and
harbour dues and helped me get in touch with the UK consulate.
Their behavior was in stark
contrast to that of the Americans.
To my horror 1 was told that the US Navy had chosen not to apprehend the pirates and had left them free to attack other yachts following in our wake. And that is exactly what happened not once but twice.
Exactly a week later, in approximately the same position, we learned that a group of five yachts, including Imani from America and Sea Dove from the U K. were attacked by the same pirates. I was on the SSB net
a week later telling the story of what had happened to us when Imani broke in
saying they were being approached from astern by 3 ships life boats with blue
plastic sheeting round the sides – did I think they were the same boats?
‘Roger, Roger, get out of there if you can’
The group of 5 yachts closed up
together and increased speed to full power. I called Elbe on the VHF who
contacted the US navy whose responsibility that part of the Gulf was.
Despite being fired on the group
of yachts were able to get away as one of
the pirate boats started to smoke badly with engine problems.
The US Navy sent an
Orion aircraft to circle the pirates
and later a frigate located them and circled theme. Then they took no further action and left the 3 pirate boats
to go free.
In response to my angry report of
the situation to the UK consulate the US consulate sent a couple of
FBI agents to interview us. The American Navy have an admiral, a large
airport and military establishment of some 2000 men based in Djibouti They
plainly had no knowledge of the sea or ships or pirates. Very nice and serious
people but incapable of understanding the descriptions of the craft the pirates
used or how the two attacks had been formulated. They assured me our description
of the pirates – their clothing and appearance would be circulated to the
The next day 3 more yachts were
attacked by the same pirates – not surprisingly I think the pirates had worked
out the US Navy was not going to impede their ability to attack and rob European
yachts on the high seas. They did dispatch an Orion aircraft to circle the
yachts as they ran from the pirates and apparently a frigate started to patrol
the area. Certainly the Orion
report to the 3rd group
of yachts that it had found the pirates and was passing their position back to
From the reports I have read of
pirate attacks in the same area one year later I would say the same group of
pirate boats is having a field day with yachts, secure in the knowledge that the
US navy will not intervene or harm pirates in any way.
None of these attacks took place in anyone’s territorial waters.
The rule of international maritime law applies and that allows the
Americans to stop and search these pirate boat if they have the will.
To view my thoughts about the attack,
possible avoidance tactics and
how I think the pirates operated follow the link to Pirates
(follow this link to treasure island
the drama production about pirates I directed for the BBC and also Warship)
To view my conclusions about the attack and
how the Pirates operated follow the link to