The Pirate Attack in the Gulf of Aden


This is a based on the article published in Yachting Monthly

The following link shows the UK HO chart with the safe corridor up the Gulf of Aden - I was attacked in the safe corridor...

*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 towards Djibouti  in company with German singlehander, Ulf Reimer, in his 35ft yacht, Josephine. I was keeping watch for both boats.

The 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 was perhaps  a problem.

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 sails flog.

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 company.

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.

Onboard 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.

The boom 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.

We moved 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 into the 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 situation’.

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 proper authorities.

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 HQ.

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


GENEVA (Reuters) -

More than 100 Somali and Ethiopian people are feared to have drowned at sea in the past week while trying to reach Yemen aboard smugglers' boats, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Most perished when a vessel carrying 93 passengers sank on March 3 in the Gulf of Aden after developing a technical problem, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.

Only the four crew survived, after being picked up by other smugglers' boats who had also set sail the same day from northeastern Somalia, it said.

"They rescued the crew but left all the passengers to drown," UNHCR spokeswoman Marie-Helene Verney told Reuters.

A further 18 Africans are believed to have drowned on March 7 after the crew of another boat ordered its 85 passengers to jump into the sea while some distance from the coast.

"This tragedy is the latest in a series of similar accidents that have caused an untold number of deaths in the past few years," UNHCR said.

A year ago, 100 people are believed to have drowned when a smugglers' boat sank in the same waters, it added.

Thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians each year "fall prey to unscrupulous traffickers" in the hope of being smuggled into Yemen, from where many seek to make their way to Europe, according to the UNHCR.

It said this "growing disaster" had its roots in poverty coupled with insecurity in the case of Somalia, which drives desperate people into smugglers' hands.

"Most of these people are economic migrants but a certain number are refugees," Verney said.

Survivors from the latest incidents, as well as some 450 passengers from other smugglers' boats who also sailed from Somalia at the same time, were intercepted by Yemeni authorities. They are receiving care at Mayfa'a reception center near the coastal village of Bir Ali in southern Yemen.

They told UNHCR staff that some 1,500 people are waiting to be smuggled into Yemen from Bossasso, in northeastern Somalia, in coming days.

Story ends

Sickening to think the pirates just rescued their own - left the women children and passengers to drown!

To view my thoughts about the attack on Bambola, possible avoidance tactics and how I think the pirates operated follow the link to Pirates

is the link to the US agency reporting on piracy world wide


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