WSJ: Pirate attacks leave round-the-world sailors with tough choices…

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February 24, 2011

Days before the Quest set off on its doomed trek across the Indian Ocean, Bill Rouse, a Texan attempting to sail around the world, made Quest owner Scott Adam an offer.

Pirate attacks had become so intense, that he and a group of yacht owners decided to transport their vessels across the Indian Ocean by cargo ship. Rouse and the others would fly to Turkey to reclaim their yachts. The cost was steep, $35,000 a piece. There was space for the Quest.

Adam declined. The Quest was planning to sail as part of a convoy for safety. Plus, circumnavigating the globe under his own steam “was a life-long quest,” Rouse said Adam told him.

“He smiled,” Rouse recalled, “because of the obvious pun.”

Less than two weeks later, Adam, his wife, Jean and their two crew members Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, were dead at the hands of Somali pirates.

Pictured: S/Y Calypso, a 40-foot Bob Perry designed sloop owned by John and Margo Almeida circumnavigated via the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden between 1998 and 2008.

The dangers of piracy are well known to most experienced sailors, who monitor reports of attacks closely and often travel in groups through high-risk areas. But the killings have stunned the tiny, tight-knit international community of “blue water” sailors–adventurers and serious mariners who sail the globe for years at a time.

Now, many are changing course to avoid the Indian Ocean, others are scrambling to arrange transportation for their yachts on cargo ships. Some are demanding government action against the pirates, or escorts across dangerous waters.

“We cannot allow a bunch of thugs to take an entire ocean away from the world. Ignoring this will be disrespecting the deaths of the crew of Quest,” said Rouse, the Texan, from his yacht, Bebe, anchored off of Cochin, India.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website,

As piracy attacks have become more frequent, the U.S. and Europe have increased navy patrols.

But Somali pirates take orders from wealthy and powerful crime bosses who have thrived in the chaotic country. The Somali government is weak.

“The real problem here is that no one is tackling the problem at its root–on land,” said Pierre Prosper, a former Bush administration ambassador who has been advising the Somali transitional government on piracy and other security issues.

Some larger commercial ships and megayachts have taken to hiring armed escorts. That leaves individuals who can’t afford those precautions more vulnerable.

“We want government armed escort of private-vessel convoys through the danger area, as those of us now stranded in this part of the world (estimated at a few hundred boats) can’t afford the private armed guards that some commercial vessels are using, nor can we all afford to transport our boats on cargo ships,” Nancy and Burger Zapf wrote in an email from Phuket, where their vessel, Halekai is anchored.

Zapf said that she and her husband planned to sail across the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to the Mediterranean as part of their plan to circumnavigate the world.

Changing course is difficult for some, who have spent years saving and planning to sail around the world. Many are now urging their fellow cruisers to take a different route, south around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, notorious for turbulent seas and storms.

“We’re changing what our fears are. South Africa is not so scary, what’s scary are the pirates,” said Mark Jensen, an Australian who ran into Somali pirates trying to board a commercial ship last year during his trip around the world. Jensen said he “would never go back to that part of the world.”

Sevenstar Yacht Transport, an Amsterdam-based shipping company, is diverting resources to pick up last-minute requests from terrified yacht-owners. In the past few years, the company has shipped about 20 yachts a year. But in the first two months of this year, the company has already shipped 10 yachts, and plans to ship 15 more in the next few weeks.

On Wednesday, a day after news of the American deaths, the organizer of a convoy of 30 yachts in Thailand contacted Sevenstar to arrange transport across the Indian Ocean.

“People are so afraid,” said Richard Klabber, managing director of Sevenstar.

Leisure sailors point out that not everyone can afford that option. Many yacht owners, called “cruisers” or “yachties,” are retirees who have sold their belongings to fund their travel and live on a budget.

Klabber said his company is reducing its rates to accommodate the desperate. But the solution, he says, is simple: “They shouldn’t be there. They should just not be in that zone.”

-By Tamara Audi, The Wall Street Journal, (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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