A Dutch yacht was abandoned by pirates after their paid armed escorts returned fire

A yacht was abandoned by pirates in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday after their armed escort fired shots and sent them fleeing.

The 21m motoryacht Capricorn was on passage between Djibouti and India when it was approached by a fast skiff and boarded by six armed men.

The two crew on board, a captain and engineer, both Dutch, followed plans laid out in advance and retreated to a safe room (possibly the machinery room).

According to Thomas Jakobsson of Naval Guards Ltd, the Cardiff-based company employed to give the Capricorn an armed escort: “The pirates boarded the vessel firing shots. The escort boat was 50-100m away and after firing warning shots they were to manoeuvre into a position to fire directly at the pirates.”

The escort boat, one of two military-looking 22m camouflaged fast craft capable of up to 14 knots currently in operation by the company (see the photo above), had six ex-Navy personnel on board.

During the exchange of fire, the pirates shot through the window of the escort boat and damaged some communications equipment, but there were no casualties.

The pirates fled in their skiff and returned to a mothership that could be seen nearby.

“When they are in their skiffs we cannot fire on them. They know that. They are definitely playing a smart game,” says Jakobssen.

The same pirates were probably behind another attempted pirate attack some 90 minutes later on a ship 38 miles away. According to the Maritime Liaison Office, or MARLO, an organisation that exchanges information between the US Navy, Combined Maritime Forces and merchant shipping, a skiff approached the ship but failed to board.

This latest incident on the motoryacht Capricorn is the third pirate attack on a yacht in the last two weeks. Four crew on the US yacht Quest were killed on 22 February after being captured and last week a Dutch crew including three children were taken and are now reported to be in captivity in Somalia.

As far as I can determine around 71 crews of private yachts were planning to cross the Indian Ocean and sail towards the Red Sea this month. Of those, most have made alternative arrangements as follows:

  • Transporting their yacht from Male, Maldives to Turkey – 15 yachts
  • Transporting their yacht from Salalah, Oman to the Med – 21 yachts
  • Turned around and headed towards South Africa – 3 yachts
  • Turned around and will stay in SE Asia at least another year – 8 yachts
  • Currently crossing the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea – 22 yachts
  • Hijacked at sea – 2 yachts

The option of an armed escort has been discussed among many of these cruising crews, from what I can understand, and been rejected.

Thomas Jakobsson from Naval Guards agrees it’s not a good option for yachtsmen.

“The costs re too high – it’s US$7,000 a day on average,” he says. “The sensible solution for yachtsmen would be to put their boats on a cargo vessel and fly. Our service is more for commercial vessels.”

He adds that the vulnerabilities of yachts – what military sources call ‘low and slow’ – would make escorting a group “a nightmare.”

“Compared to a ship it’s very different trying to defend a 40ft sailboat doing six knots,” he commented.

“For a group you would need at least two patrol boats and RIBs and you would need to stay close to the coast. These pirates travel at 23 knots so you only get minutes of warning and you couldn’t risk shooting through sailboats.”

Jakobsson says that during a year operating an armed escort service this week’s incident is the first time his guards have had to fire a shot.

“It shows the desperation of the pirates. They are prepared to gamble a bit,” he says. “This was a very desperate attack. Possibly they were on their way back To Somali with nothing.”