We have been informed of a frightening Pirate attack recently experienced by a sailing family in the Gulf of Aden. Also known as Pirates Alley, the Gulf of Aden is located in the Arabian Sea between Yemen and Somalia.
Anyone thinking of sailing in or around The Gulf of Aden, please read this first.
"At UTC 0530 on Sunday 18 February 2018 sailing vessel AraKai was approached by five skiffs in position 13* 58.42’N, 51* 37.62’E. We were steering a course of 252 degrees and were in the middle zone of the IRTC in the Gulf of Aden.
"The first skiff was sighted whilst approximately 2nm from AraKai and was approaching quickly on our starboard quarter from the Yemen coastline. Weather conditions were benign. Another skiff was seen soon after. A “Mayday” call was issued on VHF Channel 16.
"Container vessel Thalassa Nikki acknowledged our distress. The ship was travelling towards us in the IRTC eastbound at 12nm distance. The OOW advised us to contact “Coalition Warships” on VHF 08. Nothing was heard.
"The master of AraKai phoned UKMTO to alert them of imminent pirate attack. Whilst on the satellite phone two more skiffs were visible. Four in total were now hunting AraKai.
"We saw five people in a skiff as they closed in on our starboard side. They then proceeded to cross our bow and became stationary approximately 0.5nm from us. The three other skiffs crossed us on our port quarter remaining further away. No weapons were sighted as we have no height advantage at 3m above sea level.
"The container ship, on hearing a second Mayday from us saying four skiffs are in the vicinity, alerted us that a Coalition helicopter will be in the area within 15 minutes.
"True to form a navy helicopter appeared and hovered over the skiffs. The skiffs then altered course and we noted five in total. Two skiffs closed within 200 metres of our stern and this information was relayed to the UKMTO.
"The navy helicopter informed us a Japanese Navy aeroplane had been deployed and was on the way to our position. They continued to circle us until the plane arrived 40 minutes later. The Japanese Navy aircraft recommended to us to alter course back eastwards to rendezvous with a Japanese warship, which was 66nm from us. They advised us they would continue to circle us until we reach the warship.
"The aeroplane continued circling us for the next few hours reporting the position of the skiffs. The skiffs followed us on a parallel course at a distance of 5-7nm. As we turned on a reciprocal course back eastwards they followed suit. It was especially humbling when the aircraft advised us three skiffs are on fast approach to our position. We were continually updated on the range and bearing of the Japanese warship. With both engines we were making only 8 knots.
"At 1100 UTC Pakistani Navy vessel FFG 253 came into view. The Japanese Navy aircraft reported the skiffs were no longer within 10nm of us and departed. We noted the Japanese warship was also present. The Pakistani Navy vessel delivered extra fuel to us as we had concerns we would not have enough to reach Djibouti. We were told we will be under escort the rest of the way.
"We are incredibly lucky that we were not attacked however the threat was all too real. At no time did the skiffs look or act like fisherman. No nets, floats, flags were visible. We were essentially sitting ducks!
"This has been a sobering and frightening experience. We made it safely to Djibouti. Our experience is written up as only suspicious activity by UKMTO."
The Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean are popular areas for sailing yachts to journey but in the past decade the Gulf of Aden has been a hot spot for pirates attacking passing vessels.
The Gulf of Aden is situated in the Arabian Sea between Yemen, on the South Coast of the Arabian Penninsula and Djibouti, Somalia in the horn of Africa.
While all authorities, including the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) recommends that yachts stay away from the Gulf of Aden, hundreds of yachts are making the transit by staying close to the Yemeni coastline.
Cruising sailor Horace Costa, aboard deciBel, a 39ft aluminium yacht, tells his story of transiting the Gulf of Aden's 'Pirate Zone' in March 2010. Click here to read his experience >>>