Rules of Engagement – When pirates attack…

In 2006, my parents and I were sailing from the Maldives, an archipelago off the southwestern tip of India, to the Port of Mina Raysut, in Salalah, Oman.  My parents were 8 years into their circumnavigation on board Calypso, and the most difficult leg of their trip was upon them.

At the time, piracy was not of major concern that far out in the Arabian Sea, it was mostly an issue facing mariners transiting the waters near Socotra Island, and anywhere within 150 miles or so from Somalia.  We arrived in Oman without incident after 9 days at sea, but with a heightened awareness that the next leg of our trip through the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden would need to be carefully planned and considered.

Over the next two weeks, we waited out dust storms and allowed the harbor to fill with other sailors making their way to the Mediterranean.  At the officers club, the skippers of each of the boats gathered one evening to plan the trip west.  Safety in numbers was the plan, and being the only “Navy guy” I was elected commodore of this ragtag squadron of internationally flagged sailboats.

Our plans included maintaining minimal VHF radio contact, planned nightly discussions on HF, navigational lighting configurations, and we even coordinated with the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain to let them know what we were up to.  It was a solid plan, but we knew that we would be on our own if anything were to go sideways.

A year or so ago, a sailboat transiting this area had come across “pirates” and had successfully defended themselves, destroying the pirate boat and killing a pirate.  It was quite a story, but raised the question, “should we bring a gun with us?”  Everyone in the room, except for the skipper of one of the boats, was completely against the idea of firearms on board.

Rightly so I’d say, and here’s why:

1) Threat identification: Pirates don’t wear swords or funny hats, they look like fishermen.  How do you know that the approaching boat is a pirate boat, and not a fisherman?

2) Is brandishing a weapon going to escalate the situation to the point where it’s a life or death scenario, or can you really defend yourself from the attackers?

3) Will the weapon you carry on board be stolen by the pirate and used against you?

4) Do you know how to shoot?

5) Does your gun still work after being at sea for months at a time?

Here’s a link to my personal experience while transiting the Gulf of Aden in 2006…