Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Another pirated yacht

By now everyone should know that there has been another pirated yacht in the northern Indian Ocean.  This time it is a Danish yacht, taken as they were enroute from Maldives to enter the patrolled IRTZ corridor.  And, sadly again, we also knew the folks on this yacht.

In Galle, Sri Lanka we were rafted to this yacht.  They were against the concrete wharf and we were tied along their starboard side.  Every time we went ashore we had to climb over their boat.  (See Jan 30 posting -- Trip to Columbo)  Being European and familiar to being in crowded harbors, they had no problem with this.  This Danish family was so nice, quiet, peaceful and gentle.  Those are the only words I can think of to describe them.   Good experienced sailors all.

The family of 5 also had aboard 2 young men as crew.  Actually, when we were together with them Bill and I thought that 1 of the crew was their eldest son, just had darker hair than the rest of the family.  But news reports state that this young man was crew and not a family member. The other young man as crew was obviously not a member of the immediate family.  Nice guy, but completely different body build and coloring from the very blonde Danish family.  Like most boat kids, the teenage children were mature for their years and accustomed to being around adults.

One thing Bill and I noticed was their courtesy flag for Sri Lanka.  It was a blank sheet of paper on which the children (or one of the children) had drawn the flag and lion emblem and then colored with crayons.  This hand-drawn, hand-colored "flag" was then inserted into a plastic sleeve.  The open end was taped and it was hung as a courtesy flag on the starboard spreader flag halyard.   I thought at the time that this was a good project as they learned about each country they were soon to visit.  Inexpensive and educational project for home-schooled cruising kids.

The name of this boat is ING.  We inquired how they came to name their boat after a well-known international corporate giant.  The father explained that this boat had once been sponsored by ING corporation in a race of some sort.  When he bought the boat he planned to change the name.  Then he found out how much it would cost to remove the name from the hull and all the sails -- and decided that ING would be a good name for his boat.  So he left the original name in place.  Bill and I were surprised that ING corporation had not either removed the name before selling the yacht or at least stipulated in the sales contract that the name must be removed and the yacht given a new name.  Seems like ING corporation would not want their corporate name on an item outside their control -- especially on a private yacht sailing around the world.

ING departed Sri Lanka on a Sunday afternoon, enroute to the Maldives.  The following day we departed enroute to Cochin.  Minutes before leaving the wharf they presented us with the remaining third of a very fancy ganache covered cream filled chocolate cake.  The cake required refrigeration and they did not have room for it, nor was there enough left to serve all 7 people; so they thought we might like to enjoy it.  We did.  What a treat!  This was a nice gesture on their part.  I am sure whoever was to be on night watch on that first night at sea would have enjoyed eating that cake.

One of the things we noted about this yacht was that they had such a tiny water supply for 7 people for an ocean crossing.  Their water tank was so small that they filled it by carrying 1-gallon plastic bottles from the spigot and pouring into the tank.  Barely sufficient water for drinking and cooking, and no fresh water for showers and washing dishes.  We assumed those tasks would be done with seawater.  I sincerely doubt they had a watermaker on that boat.  This was not a yacht filled with luxuries.

We were impressed with the obvious sailing skill of the entire family and 1 of the crew.  The other crew member did not seem as experienced, but maybe we just got  the impression because he was not as familiar with that particular boat as the other 6 people on board.  When they were ready to depart, a friend used his dinghy to pull our stern out.  The ING backed out of that tight space like professionals.  Our friend then used his dinghy to push our stern back up close to the wall of the concrete wharf and we tightened the dock lines fore and aft.  A piece of cake!  As we were adjusting our dock lines for our new closer position, the ING motored out of the harbor.

That was the last we heard of them until receiving news on February 24 that a distress call had been heard using their boat name.  U.S. Central Command confirmed to another friend that the distress call had been received and provided the coordinates.  None of us knew the nature of the distress call.  We were all hoping that it was a mechanical failure of some sort.  On February 25 Central Command again confirmed the "last known position" for ING.  Bill plotted the latitude and longitude of both locations and it was very obvious that ING must have been hijacked by pirates.  In 21 hours the ING had sailed 117 NM in a straight line towards a known pirate haven port on the coast of Somalia.

Bill and I remained silent about this because we felt that to make anything public might jeopardize any possible rescue attempt or at the minimum might cause difficulties in negotiations between the Somali pirates and the Danish authorities.   We had seen how crazy the media behaved in reporting the capture of QUEST.  Why feed the frenzy?  I am writing now because the Danish government has made news of this capture public.  And, as predicted, the media is clamoring the same question as when QUEST was captured:  Why were these people in this dangerous area?

Here is why.  The father/captain on ING discussed piracy concerns with us in Sri Lanka.  He pointed out that NO PRIVATE YACHT HAD EVER BEEN CAPTURED in the northern Indian Ocean when following the routes recommended in published sailing guides (specifically in Jimmy Cornell's book of sailing routes).  He was correct at that time.  No private yacht had been captured; at least none that we are aware of.  There was one French yacht hijacked several years ago; but that capture took place in the far western Gulf of Aden and close to the northern coast of Somalia, not in the northern Indian Ocean.  At the time the ING left Sri Lanka, the huge increase of piracy attacks this year was not yet publicized.  And none of us sailors in Sri Lanka yet knew anything about the rioting in Egypt (later to spread throughout almost all the Middle Eastern countries).   As I have pointed out in previous posts, last "season" there had been only 6 pirate attacks in the northern Indian Ocean (all against commercial shipping); this season there were 78 as of February 10.  And there have been many more since then!  

ING was already at sea when QUEST was captured.  I do not know if ING had been notified of the murders of the crew of QUEST.  But there would be little, if anything, they could have done differently had they known.  As I have had to repeatedly point out to non-sailors, there is this little phenomena in this part of the world known as monsoons.  A sailboat cannot travel in the opposing direction during monsoons.  It flat just won't work -- impossible due to wind angles and strength of winds and all the normal sailing technicalities that non-sailors cannot comprehend.  ING could have turned and gone due south; that would have been his only option in a sailboat at this time of year.  And that would have taken him into even more dangerous Somali pirate waters and closer to the Somali coast for a very long distance.  Not to mention he would be sailing into cyclone territory during cyclone season.  So all the arm-chair sailors and the ill-informed critics need to do a bit of research before they criticize ING's decision to be where they were when they were.  It was pure bad luck that pirates happened upon them.  It is a big ocean out there.  It is hard if not impossible to find a boat when you have the exact coordinates.   Their bad luck to be found by the bad guys.

We hope for the safe release of the crew of ING -- the entire Johansen family -- Jan, Birgit, Rune, Hjalte and Naja; and the 2 young men crew whose names we never learned.


  1. Congressman Ted Poe, Texas is giving a floor speech on Thursday 3 March, Washington, DC time regarding Piracy...Please ask your congressman to support Ted's speech.

  2. There is one nation that has a dismal history in relation to support of piracy. There is almost universal tolerance of piracy in its south-eastern zone with many public markets selling goods seized by pirates. Even women openly attend the sales in large numbers. That nation's south-eastern zone is largely agrarian but that nation does have a rather industrialized zone in its northeastern sector. There three major cities have dozens of merchant firms that routinely derive the bulk of their income from sending munitions, tools and nautical supplies to pirates in and around the Indian Ocean.

    Also in the northeastern sector of that nation, there are dozens of families who stand on shore on a moonless night and hold aloft a gyrating lamp to simulate a lightship and knowingly lure sailing craft onto rocky shores. Clearly, shipwrecked sailors rarely survive even if they happen to make it to shore alive.

    I'm sure by now you all realize that I am describing the USA in the 19th century.

  3. I haven't heard anything more about this Danish boat in a long time. Have you?

  4. No, we have not heard anything about ING in over a month. Last I read the family is being held on one of the captured big ships and the living conditions are horrific. They were being moved about on land before being moved to an anchored ship. The father wants no publicity as he feels it does not help their situation. I would not be surprised if Denmark negotiates ransom, which as much I want to see them freed; paying ransom is a very bad idea and will encourage even more attacks on small yachts.



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