The report on Tuesday morning of the capture of a Danish flag cruising boat in the Arabian Sea near Socotra that was crewed by four adults and three children is yet another tragedy. This incident of piracy comes on the heels of the murder last week of four Americans cruisers who had been captured by pirates off the coast of Oman in the same region. In the last year in these waters, more than 1,000 seafarers have been captured and held for ransom by the marauding bands of Somali pirates. As every sailor knows, this is the most dangerous stretch of ocean on the planet. I sailed through these waters 15 years ago and did so with great caution and trepidation. The threat to sailors is much worse now.
Obviously, it is time for the world to step forward in a dramatic way to deal with the escalating violence against innocent people. But efforts to rein in the pirates are complicated by the thousands of hostages in captivity whose lives would be put in danger by any direct military assault on Somalia and the surrounding waters.
For our part, the best way to help ourselves and help the cause of defeating the pirates is to avoid the area altogether. For sailors in Southeast Asia who want and need to head west, the southern route around Africa is the only good option. The route leads south-southwest to Cocos and then southwest to Mauritius and Reunion Islands, with a landfall in Durban, South Africa. There have been attacks as far as a thousand miles from Somalia and the circle of danger is expanding, but to our knowledge, there have been few or no attacks along the southern route from Asia to South Africa.
There have been very public pleas from cruisers for naval escorts across the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Frankly, we disagree. Cruisers choose to sail for pleasure and choose to sail through dangerous waters of our own volition. Self-reliance and constant vigilance have always been the most essential qualities in a good seaman, and that has not changed. The route west from Asia to Europe via Suez is now essentially blocked, so we need to choose a different route. We don’t need to put the lives of our professional sailors, pilots and soldiers at risk to protect our pleasure cruises. We don’t need to put ourselves in harm’s way.
Others have different views. I hope you will share your thoughts with us and the Cruising Compass family by posting here or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Day, Publisher