One year after Paul and Rachel Chandler's capture by pirates the risk zone has spread even wider


Today is the one-year anniversary of the capture of yachtsmen Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were taken from their Rival 38 Lynn Rival while on passage between Seychelles to Tanzania.

As I wrote recently, there has been no news of the fate of the couple since June.

Piracy is big business in Somalia and its influence is spreading throughout the Indian Ocean. Cruisers are being advised to avoid the Seychelles, and Madagascar is also an area of concern as piracy attacks increase in reach and grow more sophisticated.

It is very big business and tightly organised. Last year it was estimated that Somali pirates raked in around US$60 million a year from ransoms, principally for the release of captured ships.

Alarmingly, this has spread almost as far as Mauritius, which is 1,400 miles from the coast of Somalia. I learned yesterday from some of the World ARC crew enjoying a stopover here that a fishing vessel with 14 crew was robbed last week only 300 miles north of the island. It was raided by gangs in several fast boats who took everything on board – astonishingly even the fishing catch – and returned to a mother ship.

This now appears to be how pirate groups are operating. Another method Somali pirates are using, I am told, is to run small, fast boats from what is effectively a depot at the north end of Madagascar. Stolen goods are later transferred to bigger boats that ship them to Somalia.

Last year, there were reports of boats leaving the Seychelles being robbed at gunpoint. I understand that Somali gangs positioned four large boats to the north, south, east and west of the island and sent out raiding parties of teenagers in smaller speedboats.

There are other known hotspots round the world, for example Indonesia. The photo of the fast boat above was taken by the crew of a Dutch cruising yacht as they were being shadowed south of Bali. The motorboat changed course every time they did. The crew contacted other World ARC yachts in the vicinty which converged and eventually the suspect boat departed.

I’m using the photo here because this vessel looks similar to photos I’ve seen of the type of fast raiding boats known to be used by Somali pirates. These large dories are usually powered by huge outboards, trucked around to a convenient attacking site and launched from the beach – and now, it seems, from larger mother ships.