The cruising community is spread all over the world yet we meet people all the time who know someone we knew back when. It's not close knit and the cruisers come in all different personalities some of which we bond with while others we avoid. The one characteristic that defines probably all cruisers is the sense of freedom we have as we make our way to our chosen dream destinations.
Sadly, this sense of freedom is eroding as time and again Somali pirates raid, terrorize, capture, ransom and now kill cruisers in their lawless quest for riches. The four Americans that were killed earlier this year were strangers to us, yet we knew several people who knew them or were anchored next to them at one time or other. The Chandlers, again, were strangers, yet we had friends who were their friends and were suffering with worry over them. Last week another cruiser was murdered while trying to protect his property. We also know people who knew Christian Colombo and his wife and they are grieving the loss of their friend.
In 2007 we sailed down the Red Sea, stopped in Yemen for three incredible weeks, touring Sana'a and the highland villages, riding buses with the locals, eating with them. While our time there did not have its moments we felt relatively safe. We crossed the Arabian Sea to India without incident. As we look back, we crossed over the exact position where Mahdi and Gandalf were attacked by pirates and successfully fought them off. We knew that because we had one of Rod and Becky's charts which had a small circle with an X inside and said simply "pirate attack". Recently we realized the yacht Quest was not far from our path when they were attacked and subsequently murdered. It gives me chills, as we also had our daughter with us and had we all been killed, our youngest daughter, Kelly, would have been left alone in this world.
When we met up in Thailand with cruisers who were heading out the way we had just come, we encouraged them to stop in Yemen and take their time cruising the Red Sea. Now we have come around to the only sane way to think which is to avoid the area all together. The pirates have been enriched with ransom money, emboldened with the prospects and are all over the Arabian Sea. The danger is too real now to ever encourage anyone to take that path in the near future until something is done to rid the area of pirates.
I read the London newspaper exclusive report on the Chandlers after they returned home after 13 months being held captive in Somalia. Out of curiosity, I ventured down to the comments section and read some of the posts. It was amazing to me how venomous some of the comments were. People were blaming the Chandlers for putting their own lives in danger. One commenter in particular said they should have stayed home and taken care of their aging parents. When cruisers leave their home ports to see the world, they leave behind family and friends. Its not easy, but some of us are driven to go sailing. We know there are dangers but most of the cruisers are careful to equip with gear and knowledge before setting out so that they can take care of themselves in critical situations. A few years ago, being attacked by pirates and held for ransom was not even on the list of dangers we could face. We were more likely to be attacked by a whale or hit a shipping container than meet up with pirates.
A whole section of the blue planet has now been closed off to cruisers. Last year's group that sailed from Thailand to India were discouraged by the incredible number of pirate attacks and chose instead to ship their boats up the Red Sea. After the murders of the four American and the French cruisers only someone with a death wish would transit that area.
There's a Slovakian Captain on our dock and he told us of a Russian group that has a freighter with commandos aboard, a private mercenary venture, which sails in the pirate infested region, baits the pirates and then opens up on them, killing them. No quarter given. Their purpose is to get rid of as many of them as possible. Not too long ago I would have recoiled at the brutality, but not now. Something has to be done to protect the seas and shipping, never mind the cruisers.
Until then, cruisers will find a way. They'll sail around the Capes before giving up their dreams and face dangers on their own terms. We belong out there.